7 Simple Tips to Further Improve Your Gardening Experience
Looking for additional tips to help stimulate your idea generation when it comes to planning a forward path to your garden? You’ve come to the right place. This article is a continuation of our previous 6 easy ways to improve your garden article and explores 7 additional tips that will help to further improve your gardening experience.
1. Explore Your Artistic Side
Photograph your plants
As the season progresses, take photographs of your beds from different angles. Add these to your garden journal for next year’s planning. Take some time to photograph different blooms, capturing some micro shots for framing for display. These will add to your inspiration during the winter and make lovely gifts to share with your loved ones.
Sketch your plants, try a watercolor, set up an easel, and create your own Monet
While you might not find yourself with a showing at the local gallery, it can be incredibly therapeutic to work on some art pieces in your garden. Dabble in different mediums until you find one that you enjoy. Give yourself permission to create something perfectly awful.
You will be surprised by the results when you let go of perfection and embrace the spirit of creativity. Much like the attitude we need to embrace for the garden itself, joy can be found in embracing imperfection.
Photograph children while exploring the garden
Allow your young friends and relatives to frolic in your garden space. Capture some candid shots as they discover things at their own pace. Pose them for a more formal shot as well. Children love to play and they love to play-act. Their joy is contagious and you will be giving them some lasting memories as well.
Journal in your garden
Pour your deepest thoughts into a notebook, while time is suspended in your private wonderland. You can journal in a separate diary or add it right alongside your planning notes. Either way, the re-birth of a garden will give rise to some re-birth within your own soul. Explore your thoughts and jot them down. Read entries from year to year in order to observe your own personal growth. Compare your spiritual evolution to the ever-changing landscape of your garden.
2. Learn Something New
Ask other gardeners for info and advice
When you see a beautiful bed at a private residence, make a point to stop and compliment the owner. Most are glad to share info and sometimes even plants. I drove past one home for two years on my way to and from work every day, admiring the perennial grasses in their landscape.
When I finally took a few minutes to stop and ask what type they were growing, the owner not only shared the information with me but dug up a small portion for me to plant in my own bed. I was grateful for such a precious gift and the homeowner was pleased by my open admiration of his work.
Subscribe to a gardening magazine
The mid-winter blahs will set in shortly after the holiday season. While you are dreaming of fragrant blooms and lush vegetation, the delivery of a gardening magazine will give you the quick fix you are yearning for. The colorful photos will remind us that spring is not as far off as it feels.
The articles will certainly provide you with some inspiration for new plantings. Tear out anything that appeals to you and save it in a file until you are ready for the pre-spring planning. As you accumulate them from year to year, you may toss some out or you may find some sudden inspiration to move from planning to action.
Invest in a classic primer
Every gardener, of every type, needs to keep a few reference books on hand. I found one that encompasses flowers, vegetables, and even trees to be an invaluable resource. Some years, I have invested in ones that are specific to a certain type of plant, such as roses while I plan and implement a new bed.
Once you feel confident that you have gained all there is to be gained from the plant-specific books, pass them on to another gardener to enjoy.
Take a gardening class
Another way to survive the winter doldrums is to take a community education class. Most counties in the United States offer some sort of community enrichment classes.
Whether you find an actual garden-related class or some other creative endeavor, this will renew your spirit through the long winter. It also gives you a reason to escape the confines of your home and meet some new people. Think of it as “gardening for your mind” while your flowerbeds slumber.
3. Share Gardening With a Child
Teach children how to plant seeds and invite them back to see the results
Some of the most rewarding time I have spent in my garden is with my children. Let them take part in every step of the process and watch their surprise as a seedling emerges from the tiny seeds they planted weeks earlier. Remind them what is growing from that seed and let them help with the harvest. Children can learn much about nurturing from tending to a garden of their own.
Have an area designated for “play”
Every garden needs a little bit of space for play. Whether it is a decorative path of stepping stones, space just right for a hop-scotch style jog, or an actual game court, such as bocce ball or croquet, you can enhance the time spent by adding something playful. Then turn your little ones loose to discover a magical playground within your garden.
Spend time playing in your garden with a child
While you will undoubtedly be filled with joy by watching the little ones play in your garden, it speaks volumes to the children and your own heart when you actually play with them.
Most adults get so caught up in daily duties that we no longer think we have time for playfulness. Not only is good for your spirit, but the children will treasure the times that you held their hand and skipped across the lawn, played a game of tag, or helped them capture fireflies in a jar. The grown-up work will still be there, waiting for you. But go ahead; let it wait a bit longer.
Give a child a bouquet and enjoy their reaction
Children love to pick flowers, but once in a while, pick some yourself and give a small bouquet to a child. Watch the look of surprise at being given such a lovely and grow-up gift. Of course, most children will want to return the favor, so you may want to specify an area where the little ones are allowed to pick or you may find your beds a little over-pruned in their enthusiasm.
4. Start Something Early
Just when winter has you down and thinking all hope for enjoying your garden is still months away, bring a bit of spring inside by forcing some blooms. The technique is so simple; it almost seems too good to be true. Forsythia and pussy willow are the easiest to work with, but crab apple, azalea, spirea, and even fruit trees will work.
Simply take a branch of the selected bush and cut a long enough piece to place in a vase. Make sure the section has both flower and leaf buds on it. After cutting it, smash the ends a bit and place it in a container of water.
Now comes the hardest part. Place the container in a cool, dark place and wait 1-2 weeks. Once the buds begin to open, bring your branch into the house and place it in a sunny spot to enjoy.
Seed starting is by far the most productive and economical use of your gardening downtime. Starting a few flats of plants from seed will save you money in the spring and give you the reward of watching your seeds sprout up close. I like to start tomato plants indoors on a sunny windowsill in late winter.
By the time the ground is warm, I have nice size plants ready to go for less than a tenth of the price of a flat from the garden center.
Cloches and cold frames
If you started your seeds indoors, or even if you bought some flats of annuals a bit too early to put them in the ground, a cloche or cold frame is a perfect step-down unit for your tender young plants.
These glass protectors can be removed during the warmth of the day and replaced before sundown to prevent and late frost from harming the plants. Not only are they beneficial, but many cloches are quite an attractive addition to your garden.
Early blooming bulbs
By far, this is the simplest way to inject your late winter flowerbeds with a jolt of spring color. Plant an assortment of spring-blooming bulbs in the fall. Cluster similar flowers together for greater impact. Some bulbs will even push through the snow to provide a delightful surprise. Crocus is among the earliest bloomers and if you plant an assortment, you will have a colorful display almost every week of spring.
5. Garden in Public
Volunteer to put in a small bed in a local park, library, church, etc.
Once you’ve established gardens of your own, take your skills on the road! Every community has some public spaces that need sprucing up. Why not offer to put in a small perennial bed, especially one that will require little to no upkeep. Even a few well-placed hostas will thrive for years and make any corner look more cheerful.
One park in my lakeside village hosts a spring clean-up date every year. Volunteers meet to clean out the flowerbeds and touch up the landscaping. They’ve planted a brilliant display of perennial flowers that look beautiful all summer long.
Shop at a farmer’s market
Farmer’s markets are springing up all over. This is a great place to celebrate in the bounty of other people’s gardens and most of them can provide you with a wealth of information. You can find perennial plants, annual flowers, fruits and veggies, even honey and maple syrup.
I try to visit at least one market every week to see what new fares are on display. Most are open-air markets, so plan according to the weather.
Visit a botanical garden and take photos and/or notes for your own use
Public gardens are a great source of inspiration for your own garden. One of my favorite dates is to pack a picnic lunch and spend a Saturday morning touring one or two botanical gardens with my husband. Now, before you pity him too much, he really digs gardens, pardon the pun.
One of us will carry the camera, usually him, and snapshots of different beds that catch our eyes. I’ll have my garden journal to make notes of different types of plants or thoughts we have while wandering. It is a great time of reflection as a couple as well as some goal setting for our future.
Teach a class
Some of you will shy away from this one, but before you panic, give it some consideration. Most of us do not have any kind of teaching certification, but all of us have some kind of knowledge to share.
I once taught a free class on simple canning recipes to a small group of women at my church. My husband has hosted a few agricultural demonstrations at our local fair. Share the wealth of information that you’ve accumulated. Even if it reaches one person, it will have been worth the effort.
6. Plant Some Food
Herbs are a simple project that you can start at any time of year. I’ve picked up herb plants in tiny pots at my local garden center and have even found them at my grocery store.
If you are feeling especially ambitious, you can start some from seed. Then place the potted herbs on a sunny windowsill, hopefully in your kitchen, and you will have fresh herbs to jazz up your recipes.
Items to plant for a small bed
Even without the space for a full-fledged vegetable garden, you can incorporate a few items into your landscape flower beds. They will both look attractive and provide fresh healthy food for your family. I like to tuck a few herb plants in among my flowers. Lemon thyme, a rosemary bush, or basil are great for cooking and add a lovely scent layer to your outdoor space. Avoid mint as it will take over your space in no time.
A large planter filled with salad ingredients can be moved as needed to protect it from the blazing summer sun. A couple of types of lettuce, some radishes and a cucumber plant trained up a small trellis can keep you in fresh salad until the first frost.
Document your progress
When you start a vegetable garden, make sure to dedicate part of your garden journal to this space. You will need to draw a rough sketch of the plot and indicate where each item was planted. Throughout the season, make notes about the progress of each planting. Indicate any plants that were afflicted by disease or pests.
Record the quantities for your harvest so you will know how to adjust your plantings for the next year. I like to add a couple of photos as well, especially one when we have just planted, one midway through the growing season, and one right before harvest begins.
This gives me a great deal of inspiration when I feel like nothing is coming up when it should. I look back and see how bare it looks at the beginning and how lush it becomes in a few short weeks.
What to do with your bounty
Everyone knows how to toss together a few garden ingredients to make a crisp tossed salad and nothing brings me more delightful than slicing up a fresh picked tomato and eating it out of hand, still warm from the sun. Most of us, however, quickly find ourselves overrun with some of the veggies and need to get a bit more creative in using them up.
Zucchini, the ever-abundant mainstay of most of my gardens, seem to appear by the dozens almost overnight. Quick bread, like zucchini nut bread, is a great use of the overrun, but you can only eat so many loaves at a time.
I’ve found that you can cut a few zukes into large chunks and toss them in the food processor. Pulse it several times until it is coarsely chopped. When I am finished, I line a colander with several layers of paper towel and press as much of the liquid out as possible.
When finished, I scoop the shredded zucchini into small Ziploc bags and freeze until ready for use. Later, they thaw quickly and I like to add them to everything for an instant burst of extra vitamins. My family will eat them in spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, chili, and even scrambled eggs.
Another prolific item in my garden is tomatoes. If 4 or 5 plants will provide me with exactly what I need, then 10 or 12 plants are even better, right? Those first few ripe tomatoes are like gold as I lovingly pick one and savor the full-bodied taste. But a few weeks later, when I have 3 five gallon buckets filled with tomatoes and more to be picked, ugh.
By that point, I’m ready to chuck the whole mess. That’s where canning saves the day. In one day, I can put up gallons of home-canned spaghetti sauce, salsa, even whole tomatoes that will last my family through an entire winter and beyond. It can be a bit labor-intensive, so I recruit a few family members to help in rotations throughout the day.
Along with canning, pickling is a great way to save an overabundance of produce. Cucumbers are the traditional choice, but did you know that you can pickle almost any garden vegetable? Beets, okra, peppers, and green beans just to name a few. Pickled asparagus is one of my favorites and even throw-away items, like watermelon rind can be pickled. Mid-winter, these seem so full of taste compared to any grocery store versions of the same.
7. Bring it Indoors
Plant cutting flowers and bring a vase full indoors
For years, I’ve dreamed of a large cutting garden, where I would have row upon row of florist-worthy flowers ready for my selection and arranging. My practical side always held me back, reminding me that I would never be able to use so many flowers at once.
To soothe my unfulfilled dreams, I now place a few types of cutting flowers within my existing flowerbeds. Cosmos, Shasta Daisies, and even tulips provide a season-long selection of flowers to be arranged in a vase for my kitchen table.
Even my wildflower meadow produces more than I could ever use but provides the entire neighborhood with a spectacular showing mid-June through fall.
Windowsill herb pots
Although I’ve mentioned planting herbs in your flower beds, I like to keep a few on my kitchen windowsill for year-round use. Mint and basil are my favorites, and chives look pretty and get added to many dishes for a subtle hint of oniony flavor. Most herbs require nothing more than good drainage and full sun.
My westward-facing kitchen window is perfect and I put them in small pots with a drainage hole in the bottom. To protect my sill, I line them up on vintage saucers to collect any drips from watering.
Easy indoor plants
Indoor plants are more than just a method for indulging your green thumb in the off-season. They also provide a soothing aesthetic, extra oxygen, and help to clean that stagnant indoor air. By choosing plants that are easy to tend, you will have these benefits for many years instead of the short few months of the outdoor growing season.
Peace lilies are very hardy; require only filtered sunlight and infrequent watering. I have had one in my living room for several years, placed adjacent to a window and it requires water one to two times a week. The great thing about my peace lily is that it starts to droop as soon as it is short on water. Within hours after giving it a drink, the entire plant perks back up and looks great.
African violets are another plant that is great for indoors, although they do have a few tricks to keeping them healthy. You must always water them from the bottom, as water will turn the leaves brown by direct contact. I find placing a pot with a large drainage hole inside of a larger, but more shallow bowl does just the trick.
I simply remove the pot, pour the water into the bottom bowl and replace the potted violet. It will drink all that it needs through the soil. It can be a bit trickier to get the flowers to bloom, but I’ve found placing them in a north-facing window usually does the trick.
Display your harvest
When the harvest is coming in hot and heavy, I take advantage of the overflow by displaying some of the items in a decorative bowl in the kitchen. As my green peppers and hot peppers start to ripen, I will fill a large ceramic bowl with a variety of them in different stages of ripeness. The reds, greens, and yellows look beautiful and this reminds me to use them as much as possible in my cooking by having them on display.
As berries come into season, I will place a bowl of them, washed on the kitchen counter for the family’s snacking. No one, and I mean no one, can walk past a glass bowl of ripe strawberries without snatching a few. They look beautiful in their ruby glow, and my family gets some extra vitamin C by munching on them throughout the day.
You do need to remember that some vegetables, such as potatoes, need to be stored in a cool, dark place. So they are not suited for display.