How to start a garden for non-gardeners

I grew up with a huge backyard garden. My mother was a wonderful gardener. Each spring, she would assign sections — a row here or a row there — for each child to plant seeds and be responsible for tending and growing. You'd think I would’ve automatically had a garden when I left college, but I didn't. It wasn't until much later that I decided to plant one. Interestingly, I didn't know where to start, so I began like a non-gardener and had to learn a lot from scratch. Here are some beginner steps:

1. Don't be afraid to fail

Gardening is something you learn to do better over time, and there are many resources available. Join a community garden or garden club, or take a one-day class through your city or county. It's okay to learn through trial and error, and it’s rewarding to experiment and enjoy outdoor time. Avid Brooklyn gardener Carlene Fowlkes has great advice: "After the first year, you will be much more confident and excited about the next year. You can expand slowly if you have more yard to cover. Once you have the initial experience with the miracle of gardening, you should be hooked."

2. Garden in any space

You don't need a huge yard to garden. Instead, work with what you've got. Your garden can be as small as a few indoor herb pots or a full-fledged mini-farm. "For those of us in townhomes, condos, or apartments, we really just need a sunny deck or patio," says gardener Amber Christian. "It's a great place to container garden, particularly if it is south facing." Additionally, you can intermix edible veggies in with your bushes and flowers for beautiful color and textural variety — just make sure you stick with organic landscaping overall to avoid unwanted chemicals on your food. Eco Landscape's senior designer Sean Lewis says: "Choose vegetables like red chard, Tuscan kale, and artichoke. Mix these in with your ornamental plants."

3. Soil counts

Wherever you plan to garden, soil is king. My soil has always been sandy, so I've learned to add lots of compost, but don't make it complicated. You can pick up organic compost from the nursery if you don't make your own, and add more each season. Also, periodically, add organic fertilizer, and your plants will be really happy.

4. Use the local nursery

I haven't yet been completely successful with planting seeds, so I tend to choose already started veggies from my local, family-owned nursery. It has a great selection of heirloom tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers, and squash that are easy to grow. "Grow in the garden what you and your family enjoy eating," says Michael Podlesny, author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person. "When you grow something you and your family normally eat, you are more likely to stick with it," he says.

5. Stick with seasonal

You might want to grow lettuce, which is a great choice for beginners, but you'll fail if you live in an area that gets too hot during the summer. So, stick with veggies that grow in your specific kind of weather. You can find out a vegetable's proper growing season by reading online seed catalogs and searching for online planting-season guidelines. Just because the veggie is sold in the nursery doesn't mean it's the best time or place to plant it.

6. Water at soil level

Ideally, you want to water deeply to encourage a healthy root system. Avoid overhead watering, and instead water with a slow-dripping hose at the soil level, or install a drip system. Adding compost and mulch in a garden's soil will also help to keep the water in the soil longer, which can be really important for drier locations.

7. Involve your family

Your family can help select veggies, plant them, and work in the garden together. It's a great opportunity for teaching and learning lessons about work, problem solving, food appreciation, and nature. I learned a lot as a child from gardening, including a strong work ethic. A community garden can also be a great place to get to know neighbors and other community members, sharing with each other a well-tended harvest. Above all, have fun. Don't take on more than you think you can easily manage. Jump in and enjoy your outdoor time. I look forward to hearing about your tasty tomatoes.

This piece was written by Terra Wellington, an actress, TV wellness, and lifestyle contributor, mom, and backyard gardener. She is the author of "The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green." More at article was originally cross promoted from New Dream in 2014 and was updated in 2018.

This article is part of a series of action-oriented guides that align with Post Carbon Institute's Think Resilience online course. The Think Resilience course prepares participants with the systems-level knowledge needed to take meaningful actions as suggested in this and other "How to Share" guides in the series.

Header image by Nikoline Arns via Unsplash