Get down and dirty in the garden
Briscoe White is owner and master grower at The Growers Exchange, an all-natural online garden center that specializes in rare and traditional herbs for culinary, aromatic and medicinal use. He has been in business for over twenty years. Member of many garden and nature-related organizations including the Garden Writers Association, when not tending his greenhouse or writing for his blog, Briscoe’s Seeds For Thought, he spends what little free time he has planning his next garden and playing with his dogs on his family farm in Charles City, Virginia.
The first of many warm days are starting to arrive and we're all catching spring fever. Many of my friends have been bitten by the spring gardening bug and have begun flocking to local garden centers on the weekend to purchase every plant in sight—but there is a better way! Fight the urge to begin planting at the first whiff of spring and keep a level head. Planning is the key to a successful garden. Buying on impulse can be the bane of any gardener, so take a deep breath and a step back from your yard to assess what you're working with.
Location is Everything
Where do you plan on planting? Consider your lifestyle and how you will be using your garden. If you'll be harvesting herbs for culinary use, you may want to plant in containers and keep them on your window sill or patio, or just start a kitchen garden within easy reach of your back door. If you plan on enjoying your patio, pool or sitting area outside, you may want to plant aromatic herbs that will attract wildlife like butterflies and birds for an entertaining time outside. Also keep in mind what wildlife you don't want to invite to your garden party and consider insect-repelling herbs such as scented geranium 'Citronella' or rue. The area that you choose should get adequate daily sunlight and have well-drained soil to allow most herbs to thrive. Before breaking ground, make sure that you have chosen your plants wisely; whether you are gardening with a color scheme or cuisine in mind, picking your plants early on will give you a better sense of the overall function or aesthetic of your garden.
Time for Spring Cleaning
The first task at hand (And the first opportunity to get your hands dirty after a long winter!) is to clear out the space where your garden will go. Make sure to remove any lingering debris, limbs or weeds from your bed to ensure a fresh start. Check the pH of your soil with a test kit to determine what may need to be added to give your plants a healthy foundation, so that if you need to turn anything in while tilling, you can save yourself some work. Turn your soil well to break up the dormant dirt that has been frozen all season to allow warm air to breathe into your bed. This can also help to check the health of your soil by allowing you to see what critters may be living below the topsoil that will help aerate and maintain drainage for your plants, like earthworms. (Whenever I come across one inching across my sidewalk, I toss him into the garden—it's a win-win situation; he helps my plants and he doesn't get squished by people walking by!) Add organic compost to help infuse the soil with fresh nutrients. You can add comfrey leaves to your compost pile to quicken the decay of your material, or make a great liquid fertilizer from this herb's plentiful leaves, as they quickly breakdown into a very beneficial boost for your plants.
When you begin to finally plant, keep companion plants in mind. To encourage better health and growth of many of your plants, you can grow them next to herbs that will add valuable nutrients that their neighbors can thrive off of; repel insets, deer and rabbits; or protect smaller plants from strong winds. For example, in your flower garden try planting basil near your petunias or tomatoes to attract helpful butterflies that will aid in pollination while repelling beetles and flies. Other plants, like Tagetes 'Mexican mint marigold' are said to prevent perennial weeds and ivy as well as reduce the amount of nematodes in your soil. Companion planting can be a very valuable investment as the plants do a lot of the tending for you, allowing you more time to sit back and enjoy your garden. Make sure not to rush your planting based on the daytime temperatures—the night time has to be warm, too. As long as there is no threat of frost, you can start early plants like arugula, and as the nights warm up you can gradually introduce other, more temperature temperamental plants.
Photo by Briscoe White: Tagetes 'Mexican mint marigold' has the sweetness of licorice.
Make it Personal
Once you're done planting and your garden is growing strong, don't forget to personalize your space! Adding plant markers to your plants will help remind you what you've planted once your herbs begin to go dormant and your flowers fade, and it will also educate friends who may wander through curiously. You can also mark your plants by "culinary"or "medicinal," or by their Latin names for an even more interesting tour. Adding benches is another great way to enjoy your green wonderland. Gardens are a place where we can finally get away from life's constant chaos, so why not sit and stay a while? Having a comfortable place to sit and reflect, watch nature or read will further your contentment with your garden and really allow you to reap the benefits of your hard work. Adding bird feeders and birdbaths are a wonderful away to attract feathered friends who can help keep your garden bug-free, as well as give you plenty of natural entertainment. Also, don't forget to add meaningful or whimsical plaques, planters, pots and garden art to capture your own personal style. Your garden should reflect who you are and what you love, as we all add a piece of ourselves to our labors of love.
Photo by Briscoe White: Lawn art and garden accents add a whimsical feel to your garden.
Keeping these simple tasks and creative ideas in mind while planning your garden this spring will ensure a more fulfilling experience. Remember that your garden is what you make it. Whether for function or fashion, it can be your new favorite place to spend hours reveling in your hard work and nature’s beauty. Make sure to plan everything out in full so that you don’t end up with a bunch of dead plants and a sour taste for gardening. Delaying your spring impulse just a little bit longer to prepare your plan of attack can save you loads of heartache later on. Keep these things in mind before you buy, and your garden will be a bountiful success!