#FridayReads: How to Plant a Garden

I finished this book a while ago, but I’m referring to it often as I plan my garden. How to Plant a Garden refers mostly to ornamental plantings, and while I’m aiming for a mainly edible garden, I still found it enormously helpful.

Considering I live in a city, I do have a sizable yard–but we’re not talking acres, here, so I need my garden to pull double duty: provide me with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and other useful plants while also looking great.

photo of How to Plant a Garden with a houseplant

The author, Matt James, explains basic garden design principles and also gives summaries of basic garden styles like cottage and naturalistic. He even includes “productive” as a style. I can tell you when a garden looks good and when it doesn’t, but until reading this book I couldn’t tell you why. I’m still a garden design n00b, but I feel equipped to at least tackle my modest urban homestead.

One thing that helps greatly is the abundance of beautiful photos and sample planting schemes. A lot of these won’t necessarily work with my space, but they do provide excellent inspiration. This book could just as easily be left out on a coffee table as shelved with your garden reference books.

Even if you have a well-established garden or have been gardening for years, I bet you’ll find something worthwhile in these pages.

Winter blessing Spring

The snow melts slowly over the candle flame, first compacting into slush and then pooling at the bottom of the mason jar. Sakura-scented incense smoke rises and curls above the altar as I hum a chant, my prayer to spring.

When the snow transforms completely to water, I begin the work of planting seeds for my garden—my first garden in my first house. A slight breeze finds its way to me through the open window, along with the sounds of children riding scooters up and down the street, calling out to each other, laughing.

I fill each egg carton cell with soil and carefully place each seed. Tomato, eggplant, celery, radish, turnip, beets, fennel, sugar snap peas, parsley, mint, dill, thyme, basil, lavender, sunflowers, coneflower.

Some of these—tomato, eggplant, peas, the herbs—I have grown before, and others are new to me. I have been reading book after book on gardening and growing food, but I learn best through experience, through working the soil loose with my hands and watching leaves and flowers unfurl.

For a final blessing I sprinkle each cell with a few drops of the melted snow–a promise for renewal, for growth. I place each egg carton in recycled plastic containers and set them on my windowsill. With dirty fingers and a happy heart, I snuff out the candle and offer thanks to the earth, to the sun, for the gift of seasons, of change, of new beginnings.

Refresh

Living with a chronic illness means that you have to be able to change plans based on how you’re feeling. If you don’t want people to see you as an unreliable flake (especially if your illness is invisible, like mine), you have to plan ahead and be ready to get things done on your good days so that you can take care of yourself on your bad days.

Sometimes, all that planning and preparing starts to feel like drudgery. So, when I wake up on a beautiful early spring day feeling like a human being, it’s hard for me to stay inside. So, I don’t.

Yesterday, I threw out all my plans to work on freelance work and do the grocery shopping. I took the dogs out and worked in my garden.

It doesn’t actually feel like my garden yet. I’m starting the second year in this house, but I purposefully didn’t make any alterations to it last year because I had no idea what would come up. Now, though, I’ve seen the garden through an entire growing season, and I know what to expect.

Whoever planted this garden did not read the helpful little tags that come with the plants. Short plants are growing in the back of the beds, and tall ones in the front. Bushes that are going to become absolutely huge (they are still little for the moment) were placed smack dab in the center of both front beds.

And holy crap, there are crocuses everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love crocuses. But they are placed in random spots, and often behind things that will grow taller than them (crocuses are short little dudes) by the time they bloom.

So yesterday, in my migraine-free state, I dug almost every single clump of crocuses up. It took me a good three hours of digging. Some, I’ll give away. The rest I plan to resettle at the front of my garden beds, where I’ll be able to actually see them and enjoy them. (The few clumps I didn’t dig up were the ones already at the front of the beds.)

It felt good to work my body, to get my hands dirty. I hardly ever wear gloves, unless I’m working with plants that have thorns. I like the tactile sensations of gardening, the feel of roots and leaves. And the smell of rich earth is like the smell of books to me—I could inhale it all day.

And so that’s what I did.