For beginning gardeners, the practice of growing food can seem to be one that’s packed with science, and intimidating science at that. What zone am I in? When should I plant? What’s that bug eating my lettuce?
After a season or more of experience, you begin to see that while gardening can involve plumbing the scientific depths and learning a lot about your flora and fauna, it’s also an art. No two gardening seasons are the same, and no two gardens are the same. Gardening is a constant learning curve, and that’s where the art comes in. A season in the garden is about using your understanding of your garden ecosystem, observing, and tweaking what you do as you embrace explosions of your zucchini population or slug-munched lettuces.
Susan Vinskofski’s The Art Of Gardening explores this art in a compact, simple, but ecologically-minded gardening guide. Vinskofski focuses on three of the fundamental but often-overlooked elements of planning a garden: site, soil, and seeds.
Choosing Your Garden Site
As a gardener who has a semi-shade garden, I understand the importance of site. Vinskoski goes through some of the basics of site selection and garden care. The majority of vegetables love the sun, so if you have the ability, she says, seek out a garden plot that receives at least 8 hours of sunshine every day. Of course, there are vegetables that aren’t so picky. Lettuce and other greens often like a little bit of cool, damp shade.
The other site consideration is traffic flow and ease of access. If you’re going to have a single garden bed, it needs to be close to your home. If you can see it, you will notice the need to water and weed the garden. Speaking of water: while many of us water diligently throughout the summer months, and water needs vary according to your plants and your climate, a good, deep soak is better for your plants than a light watering. Deeply soaking your plants encourages them to grow good root systems and allows the water to move into the soil, and watering thoroughly early in the day prevents water from evaporating before it can go to the plants’ roots.
Building Your Garden Soil
Building your soil is one of the best things you can do for your garden. Your plants get their nutrients from the soil, and good soil holds moisture that helps sustain your plants through the hot, dry season. The Art of Gardening gives tips on how to create a lasagna garden. No, it’s not a garden that grows lasagna, although that would be nice: a lasagna garden is a layered, mulched garden bed that decomposes into lovely, nutritious soil. For those with established composting bins, Vinskofski also gives tips on traditional and unusual compost amendments, including grass clippings, shredded paper, and old fabric. While many gardening books focus on the vegetables, there’s a huge amount of space in this book devoted to building your soil, and this is as it should be: with healthy soil, you’ll have a much healthier garden.
Choosing and Saving Your Garden Seeds
When there’s a blank garden plot starting at you, it’s hard to know where to begin. How do you start your own seeds? Should you buy seedlings, sow your seeds in the soil, or grow your own seedlings? The Art of Gardening gives a primer on seed starting. Gardeners tend to collect interesting seeds, but sometimes we forget to use them. The Art of Gardening contains a simple way to see if your old seeds are still viable for use in your garden. If you’re new to saving seed but would like to try growing and sharing some of your grandmother’s heirloom tomatoes, Vinskoski leads you through the process of basic seed-saving. Hint: purchase open-pollinated seeds so that you can grow your own plants from saved seed for years to come.
If you’re looking for a quick read that will give you a summary of the fundamental gardening principles for beginning gardeners, The Art of Gardening is a great place to start.
Green Thumb Thursday Link Up