Marin Master Gardeners
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Marin Master Gardeners

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Starting your own garden takes a can-do attitude

February 13, 2010
Dot Zanotti Ingels

One of the first things I learned as a new Master Gardener student last year was how little I knew, despite having gardened for most of my life. Now that I have met so many new people as I work as a Master Gardener volunteer, I have come to realize that some people would like to garden but are overwhelmed by the amount of information that is everywhere.

Growing things primarily takes a can-do attitude. The best thing is just to get started with what you have and then see where you want to let the gardening adventure take you.

You may have visions of masses of colorful flowers or beds brimming with organic vegetables, but it is important to get your feet wet first and play in a little dirt. You will begin to learn so much about your environment, plants, soil and the reality of how much time and effort you want to put into your garden right away. There will be successes and there will be disappointments, but those will happen no matter how long you garden.

Gardening is not as difficult as it looks. It just takes some work, some regular maintenance and some common sense.

The pleasures of the gardens we create are many. In our hectic times I can think of nothing that brings us back in touch with the magical rhythms of the nature around us. Any kind of garden grows out of the meeting of a site, the climate around it, the soil, water sources and the needs and wants of its owner.

There are as many ways to bring these together as there are people who cannot wait to garden. The only right way is the one that works for you. There is no better place than Northern California to garden. Just about anything is possible here.

Most of us make our gardens on the land where we live. A garden can be on a large lot or in a container on a balcony. It is often better to start small than to risk spending a lot of money on something without a plan that will not work for you after all.

Successful home gardening is a combination of the science of plants and the art of design. Take the time to look at where you want to start your garden. Think about the amount of light the site gets throughout the days and seasons. This will help you to pick the right plant for the right place and significantly determine how well your plants will thrive. A balcony, a deck or a patio is also a site and is evaluated in the same way.

Selecting the right plants involves knowing something about what you want to grow. If you are starting small or gardening in containers, you have to limit yourself to a smaller number of plants.

If you are going to grow vegetables, start with what you like to eat or maybe an herb garden for your kitchen. For flower gardens start with what you like to look at, cut for your home or smell. Look around your neighborhood at what the neighbors are growing successfully.

Go to your local nursery and read plant labels to see how much space, light and water the plant needs. Make sure that all the plants that you choose to grow have the same cultural requirements and will not require more care than you are willing to give.

Visit the library or local bookstore to check out some great sources for beginning gardeners, such as the well-respected Sunset "Western Garden Book." I particularly enjoyed perusing "Learn to Garden" by DK Books and Better Homes and Gardens' "New Garden Book." These books are loaded with practical information.

Once you have an idea of what you would like to grow first and have determined what kind of home you will be providing for your new plants, it is time to prepare a place that will give them the best chance to thrive. The soil is the home sweet home for the plants.

Often the easiest way to start is to build raised beds or use containers that you can fill with purchased soil that allows roots to grow easily. It should be fast draining and able to retain moisture.

If you want to grow in the ground of your garden, it is probably wise to consult your local nursery or some reference books to help you determine the type of soil you have and how you can amend it to provide the plants a proper home. If you are gardening in containers on a balcony or deck it is important to take into consideration how you will get all these elements to your site.

Plants vary widely in their water demands. Most plants cannot survive for long without some water. It is important to know how you are going to get water to your plants, how much water they need, how much water you are willing to spend on your garden and how much time you want to invest on the effort.

Most gardeners, novice and advanced alike, get by with a handful of simple, favorite and well-chosen tools. When you look for gardening tools to buy, look for good-quality products. You do not need to buy the most expensive, but beware that cheap equipment may not last long. There are many ergonomic choices in tools available.

Gloves will save your hands from cuts, gouges, insect bites, splinters, possible infections and damage to manicures. Two must-have tools are a hat and sunscreen. It is so easy to loose track of time in the garden and we all prefer to garden on beautiful, sunny days.

Spring is a great time to get started. Get out there and enjoy the garden you have created. Put some lettuce in a pot with some flowers right outside your door. You can pick both, relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Then start making plans to expand next year.

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