My First Garden

Down to Earth


Content Tools

I’ve always wanted to garden. From the time I was old enough to walk, I followed my father around “helping” as he used the old push tiller. By the time I was 4, I was pestering my parents to let me have my own garden. I spent hours looking through seed catalogs, learning about plants and asking questions.

Those questions led in interesting directions — not always the right direction, I might add. My paternal grandparents lived on a farm and whenever we visited them, I brought whatever new plant, fruit or flower I’d found into the house to ask its name. No matter what I found (a bouquet of poison ivy — which I once did — or a handful of grape leaves), their response was always the same: “It’s poison. Don’t touch it!”

But one day, I was visiting with my maternal grandmother, Grandma Harper, and asked her about some vines growing along the fence. To my surprise, she didn’t tell me it was poison. She didn’t share Granddad and Grandma Long’s view of plants — or children. Instead, she believed that the more a child knew, the better prepared he might be for life. Grandma Harper told me they were grape vines and took me to the cellar to show me rows of jars of grape jelly, their deep purple gleaming through the glass. Then she pointed to a row of quart jars of dill pickles. Picking one up, she turned the jar around and said, “See the grape leaf? I put one leaf in every jar of pickles to keep them crisp.”

After that I quit asking my paternal grandparents about plants. I knew I’d get the most useful information from my Grandma Harper.

As I reached my fifth birthday, I again begged my parents to let me have my own garden. My father finally agreed to till up a little plot of ground for me, about 6 by 6 feet square. My mother let me choose the seeds and she helped me order them from the seed catalog.

I was beside myself with excitement. I made a “list” by tearing out pictures and descriptions of every plant I wanted to grow from the seed catalogue.

When the seed order arrived in the mail, I could hardly wait for my parents to open the package. Spreading out my portion of packets, I looked at the colorful pictures on the front, imagining what my garden was going to look like. I barely slept that night as I arranged and rearranged the rows of plants in my mind. The next day, as soon as breakfast was over, I took my child-sized hoe and rake and began making rows in my garden.

It felt like magic to me, putting little shriveled up seeds in the ground, knowing that in a week or two, they would emerge and grow into living plants. The first plants up were the radishes, in about five days. Then the lettuce followed by carrots. Peas and corn took a little longer and I grew impatient, checking several times each day.

At first, keeping the weeds out of my little garden was easy, but soon, as the weeds grew faster and the other plants began to crowd each other, it became a difficult job. The weather grew hot and it was no longer any fun pulling weeds everyday.

Within a few weeks, I realized my mistake. In my effort to get everything in the garden, I had planted the rows too close together (about eight inches apart). That meant the corn was overshadowing the zinnias and the mint on one corner of the garden was overtaking the peas.

But no one said, “I told you so.” Instead, every time I harvested a radish or an onion or a pod of peas, my mother would compliment me and make it a part of the meal.

Sharing our wisdom and experience with those who are willing to learn makes a difference. I challenge you to consider how you can encourage the next generation of gardeners. If you don’t have extended family or friends nearby with which to share, think about contributing your time to a local community garden or offer to teach a class to new gardeners through your local garden center or county extension office. Let us know how it turns out by visiting the continuing discussion on the forums at

Jim Long, contributing editor to The Herb Companion, welcomes comments via his website: