Ten tips to start gardening

Giant Swallowtail on Bright Eyes phlox.

It’s January. Time for the annual seed catalog roundup, but I don’t want to do one, so I’m not going to. I’m working on several new speaking engagements for spring and summer, and my head is full of other information. I’ve done seed catalogs before. From those posts, you can see which companies I favor. Here’s information on when to start seeds with a calculator too, and here’s how to start seeds indoors.

So many seeds, so little time.
Seed catalogs are crack for the winter weary gardener.

Now, that we’re done with my normal seediness, let’s do ten tips to get started gardening.

Hell, I don’t know where to start some years. In winter, I walk out in the garden and just stare at it for awhile. It’s as if it takes the spring breeze to blow all the cobwebs from my winter brain. Once I begin removing the insulating cover of dead foliage from emerging plants though, I find that the gentle rhythms–old as time–take over, and I’m whole again. Fortunately, I have last year’s pictures and the scent of my hyacinths to get me in a planting mood.

Hyacinth vases in the window waiting to bloom. The first two are Tye-type vases and are vintage.
Hyacinth vases in the window waiting to bloom. The first two are Tye-type vases and are vintage.

Today is cloudy and gloomy for the fifth day in a row, but I’m thinking ahead to spring. While I’m pondering where to start, let me give you some tips.

The view of the potager from the other side. I'm standing next to the greenhouse and facing south.
Start small with raised beds or containers.
  1. Start Small. When we’re bitten by the gardening bug, we just want to grow everything. That may not be true of everyone, but I know it’s certainly true where I’m concerned. I rarely meet a plant, seed or garden tool I don’t like. Amorphophallus titanum, carrion flower might be one exception–Don’t hate me you carrion flower lovers. Gardeners don’t need to grow everything. That’s why we have stores, local flower farmers, CSAs and farmers’ markets. Thank goodness.

    Bucket full of my favorite tools.
    Bucket full of my favorite tools.
  2. Prepare. If you’re working in garden soil instead of potting mixes and containers, a soil test can make your garden efforts easier. Think ahead about how you will water. Drip irrigation is essential in a dry garden. Will you have rain barrels? If so, get several and position them all around the house. One or two rain barrels isn’t enough to make a difference unless you use them for one bed like I do. You’ll still need other ways to water. Will you grow veggies, flowers or both? What do you like to eat? To see? What are you trying to express in your garden? Are you going for form or function or both? It might seem obvious to ask, but so many people don’t think about these things before they dig. Don’t grow food you don’t like to eat. Also, don’t grow flowers or fauna that you don’t like to smell. That takes us back to carrion flower again. It’s also called corpse flower for a reason. Your garden is yours. If you like a Japanese style garden, and it works in your climate, great. If you want a small urban farm, wonderful. Still, start small and prepare.
  3. Assemble a few tools. I simply must have my DeWit Dutch Hand Hoe and a Japanese Hori Hori Knife. I also like my five gallon bucket to carry around my tools along with garden gloves. You’ll also need hoses and hose-end sprayers. I haven’t found a hose-end sprayer I really like, but I keep hoping. The closest one so far is my Haws V360 All Brass 24-Inch Watering Lance that I use in the greenhouse. It’s pricey, but makes a good present from someone special. I only use hose-end sprayers for watering in new plants, or in the greenhouse. Otherwise, the garden, including my containers, is on a drip system.

    One side of the back garden in October, 2015.
    One side of the back garden in October, 2015.
  4. Know your conditions. How much space do you have? Is your yard shady, or full of sun? Most of mine is full of sun, but I do have some shady spots too. It took me a long time to learn the sun’s path in my garden because my house faces west. In the early spring, it’s very sunny which can be hard on some plants. Once the trees leaf out, it is shady again. Learn your climate zone and grow within it for awhile before you venture outward. All experienced gardeners try to grow outside their climate zone by creating microclimates.
  5. Ask for help. Talk to your neighbors. Join a gardening class at your local nursery or garden extension. Think about joining a community garden where there’s lots of garden discussion. Join a gardening club. Note the operative word here. Join. Club members have the best plants, and they will share them with you along with the knowledge of how to grow. Plus, you’ll have the fast track to any speakers coming to speak at your club. I’m speaking at the Tulsa Herb Society this year, along with numerous local clubs and across the U.S.. I’m still finalizing several talks, and I’ll link to them as the contracts are signed.

    A forest of catalogs
    A forest of seed catalogs.
  6. Don’t let seed, plant and tool catalogs overwhelm you. After you consider how much space you have to plant, don’t overbuy. Catalogs are called garden porn for a reason. Go through your previous year’s seeds before ordering more.
  7. Use technology to keep track. Try Evernote for Android and Notes for iPhone. Evernote works on iPhone too, but I like Notes better. It’s less complicated, and you can still drag photos and links into it. Make a commitment to keep better track of your garden this year. Take photos of what worked and what didn’t. Dictate notes into your phone. It’s not only how I garden. It’s how I wrote major portions of my book. I found that I was most inspired when I was out in the garden. Is dictation perfect? No, but it’s getting better, and you clean it up later on your computer because everything is saved across platforms. Plus, you can copy links to online articles on various topics. You can link to my blogs, or my Instagram profile if you want. Everything on the Internet has an address that you can copy and put into your notes. This is the nice way to remember someone’s posts, and it doesn’t involve scraping.

    Rosa 'Carefree Beauty' rose against the split rail fence that surrounds the back garden. Photo by Dee Nash
    Rosa ‘Carefree Beauty’ rose against the split rail fence that surrounds the back garden. I’m taking as many photos of my favorite rose as I can because I fear Rose Rosette may claim it soon. Nothing is perfect even when it looks that way.
  8. Embrace imperfection and failure. We all fail. Let me repeat. We all fail. I kill plants. Of course I do. I forget to water sometimes, or I go on vacation, and the system breaks down. I might not get plants covered before a freeze. Mistakes happen, and I can be as sloppy as the next person. It’s okay. Really. Embrace imperfection. You’ll be a lot happier. Plus, you can buy another plant at the nursery, or you can plant more seeds. Last spring, with all the rain, I replanted my green beans three times. My tomatoes worked great because most of them were in the raised beds of the potager. I saw many gardeners frustrated because the rain washed their tomatoes away. I felt their pain, but I just said, replant. If I can impart one thing to you, it’s this: Don’t try so hard to be perfect. Gardening is an art and a craft. It takes time to learn it, and Nature is a fickle mistress.
  9. Slow and steady grows the tomato. Plants take time to mature. Give them that time. Don’t hurry them along too much. Don’t plant out tomatoes, eggplant or peppers until late April after all possibility of freezing temperatures are gone. The same with warm weather annuals. Patience, grasshopper.
  10. Try not to compare. Human beings are competitive to a fault. Facebook depression is real and not just for teens. Social media is great, but people are sharing only a tiny portion of their lives with you. Statuses don’t tell the whole story.

    Stop to smell the roses while you may.
    Stop to smell the roses while you may and follow your heart.

Your gardening journey is yours alone. Instead of looking at it as a competition (Best grown rose anyone?) consider it personal expression. Remember you’re an artist in your garden, and you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. Follow your heart.


Speaking of tough roses

New Rosa 'Darcey Bussell' rose for the Mary garden.
tough roses like Rosa 'Meicoublan' White Meidiland rose
Rosa ‘Meicoublan’ White Meidiland rose

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at Roses, Inc. Green Country in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, one of my favorite towns. Speaking about tough roses for the Oklahoma landscape, makes me think of all the roses I’ve loved and grown here. It is a wonderful thing to get to chat with folks who adore the same plant you enjoy. Roses were my first passion, and while I don’t buy every new one now because of Rose Rosette Disease, I still love them, and I love gardeners who do too.

New Rosa 'Darcey Bussell' rose for the Mary garden.
New Rosa ‘Darcey Bussell’ rose for the Mary garden.

The nursery tempted me, and I brought home four roses for my garden. ‘September Song’, a Griffith Buck rose, was one. I do enjoy Dr. Buck’s roses, and September is my birthday month. It seemed a good one to add. I also got another ‘Darcey Bussell’ which I placed in front of Mary in her garden. Behind it is ‘Tropicana,’ a Hybrid Tea that Bill was growing when I met him. It’s probably 35 years old. I think he had it ten years before he met me. You may remember I tested three different roses for David Austin a few years ago. ‘Darcey Bussell’ is the hardiest, most fragrant and disease resistant of the three. I also got ‘South Africa’ which is the first Grandiflora I’ve grown in years. I put it in a special place in front of ‘Peaches and Cream’ Japanese maple and ‘Molineaux’ rose of David Austin. ‘Molineaux’ struggles here, but is still hanging on.

Rosa 'South Africa' a Grandiflora
Rosa ‘South Africa’ a Grandiflora

Here are some other current favorites. This list is ever changing and is only what works best in my Oklahoma garden right now. The roses I like best at the moment are the shrub type. I still harbor a fervent desire for ‘Carefree Beauty’, but I also love the newer shrubs created through good breeding for disease resistance and good plant habit. I am pretty excited about the Drift roses. I especially like Apricot Drift, Coral Drift and Pink Drift. I’m also in the second year of testing OSO Easy Lemon Zest. It’s very pretty. I still like OSO Easy Paprika a lot. It’s in the orange section of the garden. I know many of you don’t like orange, but I find it refreshing in our hot summer sun.

Orange Rocket barberry, 'Northwind' Panicum virgatem and OSO Easy Paprika rose.
Orange Rocket barberry, ‘Northwind’ Panicum virgatem and OSO Easy Paprika rose.

Last winter, I lost ‘About Face‘ which makes me sad. I haven’t a clue why I lost it. It just up and died. Roses do this sometimes. Interestingly, ‘Cliffs of Dover’ did the same thing, but now it’s back from its roots and is growing like gangbusters. I bought ‘Gourmet Popcorn’ yesterday from Roses, Inc. because I’ve always wanted it. I placed it in a spot where it should really be happy. I normally put a purple fountain grass there, but I decided to try this rose instead.

Rosa 'The Fairy' is one tough rose.
Rosa ‘The Fairy’ is one tough rose.

As always, ‘The Fairy’ is blooming spectacularly. She always does and has few problems which is good because she’s as prickly a rose as they come. None of the roses look all that good in the rain, and we’ve had a lot of rain for several days. I am so grateful. Maybe this will break the drought. Maybe not.

Rosa 'Carefree Beauty' will look better once it quits raining, and the sun comes out.
Rosa ‘Carefree Beauty’ will look better once it quits raining, and the sun comes out.

The Rainbow Knockout roses below are strutting their stuff. They always look better in spring and fall because they don’t bleach out so much.

Rainbow Knockout roses aren't that popular in the trade, but I like them.
Rainbow Knockout roses aren’t that popular in the trade, but I like them.

As for all the roses I had to cut to the ground, they are starting to grow. ‘Dame de Coeur’ has already grown pretty large. ‘Frontier Twirl’ is still very small as is ‘Mutabilis.’ I’m sure once the heat really starts, they will make up for lost time. I still need to cut back the crapemyrtles now that I can see how far the cold nipped them back. That will be some fun work in a few days. I also have a few roses to cut back even now. I know that’s terrible, but I only had so much time to work in the garden this year, and I don’t have a helper. Anyone out there in north central Oklahoma want to come and work in my garden? I would pay for some help once a week. Email me. Ha! I only have about six left to work on. I’ll do them next week too. Plus, I need to feed the soil around a few of them. There’s always work to do in the garden, but it’s blessed work.

Rosa 'April Moon' is another Griffith Buck rose I grow. Very pretty lemon buds open to almost white blooms.
Rosa ‘April Moon’ is another Griffith Buck rose I grow. Very pretty lemon buds open to almost white blooms.

Oh! I forgot. I found the ‘Peggy Martin‘ rose when I was in Texas. It is famous for having survived Hurricane Katrina and is considered one of the toughest roses there is. Plus, it doesn’t have thorns. I’m thinking of placing it on one side of the arbor where ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ presently sulks, or on the other arbor where ‘Don Juan’ once bloomed. I bought ‘Peggy Martin’ from Barton Springs Nursery, which has a wonderful selection of antique and OGR roses. I’m still trying to decide where Peggy should ramble. I’ll let you know when I figure that one out.

That’s it for the rose parade this week. Soon, it will be daylily season–my favorite time of the year.