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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Text by: Jacque Crosswell Watene

If you are anything like me, the answer to this question might be, “Not at all.” For years I nursed the dream of walking among roses carefully planted and pruned by my own green thumbs, of clipping stately peony blooms to display in my crystal vase, of baskets full of leafy and root vegetables so fresh they would require a produce brush to scrub the earth from their nooks and crannies. Alas, the reality of my garden fantasy has proved to be not quite so “fantastic.”

The spring before last, I spent days tilling, hoeing, raking, and bribing husband and brothers alike to help me. We made perfect dirt mounds for the summer squashes, risen rows of fertile soil for the corn (we were ever so enthusiastic to have a real and true corn field to get lost in, even if it was only three rows wide and five feet long), carefully planted sixteen tomato plants (how were we to know that each plant is expected to produce over one hundred fruits!), cucumbers for days, and green beans (it really is a shame we didn’t know until it was far too late, that the beans would need some sort of support on which to twirl their tendrils around if they were expected to yield any more than fifteen lonely beans…).

For days, weeks, I would go out into the yard, searching for any sign of life among my unborn garden. And then, one magical day, it happened. Overnight, little shoots were peeping up at me from beneath the earth, and I felt like a Deity walking amongst Her creations!

Over the next few weeks, my produce babies grew and grew and grew until there wasn’t anymore room to grow. It seemed we had planted too many seeds too near each other, so I consulted my gardening book. I was horrified to learn that if my vegetables were to thrive, I would need to abort every other plant in each row.

Not my babies!

© Stephanie Stringfellow

Not after I had worked so hard to create this garden! I just couldn’t imagine yanking those little green plants that had toiled just as rigorously as the others to grow, so I decided to ignore the advice of the professionals, thinking they just couldn’t know about my garden.

After all, a mother knows best. The garden might be overgrown, but that would only mean that I would have an abundance of nature’s riches, right?

Wrong!

Oh, how I would love to tell you that we ate perfect, firm green beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and that I had so many cucumbers I was forced to bottle dill pickles. Or that our crookneck squash didn’t get ravaged by disease. Or that the green beans didn’t spiral around everything in sight, choking the life out of half the tomato plants. Or that (sniff, sniff) our “corn field” didn’t produce more than six ears of corn (apparently the reason corn must grow in a large patch is because the pollen must thoroughly fertilize the other stalks of corn to yield any cobs), because it was far too measly to pollinate and flourish properly.

If only I had thinned the plants as I’d been instructed to do…

I must own, though, that we did enjoy enormous zucchinis all summer long. Thank goodness for that, or I might have lost hope altogether in my pipe dream.

Last spring, I just couldn’t bring myself to fashion another vegetable garden. Perhaps next season I will muster the gusto to give it another go, but for now, my gardening passion lies in my ever constant, never disappointing herbal beds.

© Stephanie Stringfellow

I began growing herbs years ago when I lived in an apartment and didn’t have the room for a “real” garden. Who knew that gardening in pots would be so easy and satisfying! I found herbal gardening effortless, and best of all, I began to experiment with flavoring my dinners. Did you know that sautéing mushrooms in a little white wine, butter, and olive oil with garlic and fresh thyme will create a sauce that will make a grown man weep? Neither did I, until I served it drizzled over pappardelle pasta to my husband. Can you fathom just how much you will use fresh basil on everything when it’s right at your fingertips, ready to be snipped at a moment’s notice?

If you harbor fantasies of creating your own Garden of Eden, but lack the know-how to accomplish the task, why not begin with a simple herb garden? If you are big on gardening dreams, but small on space, a container herbal garden is the perfect choice. You will be amazed at how truly easy it can be to care for herbs, and you will feel like Mother Nature herself when you succeed.

Growing Your Herb Garden 

  1. Herbs can be grown indoors or out, but they must get at least six hours of sunlight each day, so placing them near a sunny window (if grown indoors) will be best.
  2. Begin with the three easiest herbs to grow: basil, thyme, and rosemary.
  3. Fill a pot (if planting all three in one container, allow at least three inches around each plant for growing room) with potting soil, about ¾ full.
  4. Make three holes for the herbs, and pour a little water into the holes.
  5. Gently squeeze the sides of the plastic herb containers until the roots come loose from the plastic, and carefully place the plants into the holes.
  6. Make sure the plants are standing up straight, and then, with a small trowel, fill the pot up to the top with more potting soil, patting firmly around each herb.
  7. Water thoroughly.
  8. Keep the soil slightly moist, but do not over water, as this will cause the herbs to drown. A few ounces of water each day will be quite enough for your container garden.
  9. When harvesting your basil, always leave at least two leaves on each stem, as this will promote the growth of new stalks.