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Gardening as a stress-reliever and how any Lehigh Valley resident can start, with or without a yard

The Park Seed Company flower garden in Greenwood, SC.
The Park Seed Company flower garden in Greenwood, SC.
Photo: Ashley Sheets, Park Seed Company

Gardening can be a form of therapy for the soul.  Coaxing life into seeds or nurturing young plants to maturity provides more than greenery, flowers, or fruits; it gives us a sense of accomplishment, well-being, and confidence.  Growing plants can be a stress reducer, a unifier in a community, a fundamental connection to what we eat, not to mention, intensely rewarding.  It is also quite satisfying to watch butterflies, birds, and other animals appreciate your garden.  The act of watering, weeding among, or pruning your plants, alone, is a relaxant as you slow your pace and pay attention to each spent flower, which plants to pull, and how much water each plant prefers (tomatoes love a good drink and lavender prefers less).

How to start gardening in 10 Steps:

  1. Work with what's available: indoor or outdoor, container or garden plot, your yard or community garden.
  2. According to available space, light, and access to water; decide where you will plant or place your containers.
  3. Buy tools: a hoe, dandelion weeder (handy for dandelion root harvesters, too), and hose (for outdoor gardening), sturdy garden gloves, a hand trowel, a watering can, garden labels (popsicle sticks work), and pots (for indoor and outdoor).
  4. If your soil is extra rocky, consider making a raised bed (a small garden plot enclosed by a wall high enough to support a good root system on your plants- 1 ft.-2ft. and filled in with a garden soil/compost mixture ).  You can make the walls with landscaping ties, large stones, or landscaping blocks.  Most hardware stores, grocery stores, and Walmart will have bags of soil for sale in the spring and summer.
  5. Decide between seeds or young plugged-plants: Indoor seed starting requires more accessories like seeding trays with covers, seeding soil mix, and a misting spray bottle. Refer to the seed envelope for when to sow your seeds indoors and when to take outside. You also need some sunny indoor space or grow lights to keep them warm and provide sunlight to the young seedlings. 
  6. Keep indoor potted herbs in shallow trays (with gravel in the bottom and filled with water up to the gravel level).  Water most plants, every two weeks depending on dryness, from above until excess water comes out the bottom of their pots.  African Violets prefer to pull water up from a saucer rather than letting water stand on their leaves and flower if given violet food and occasional dry spells.  Try to keep space between your plants to prevent the spread of disease or pests.  Read all plant labels well (indoor or outdoor) to determine how much light to provide them with.
  7. Ask around to neighbors and friends to see if they have any extra plant divisions or cuttings that they would like to part with.  Honestly, growers with small yards sometimes need to find homes for or compost the plants leftover from a garden cleaning, either because they've run out of space or they're doing something new.  Whatever the reason, many gardeners would rather their plants be replanted than recycled.  What you get might need some TLC or, in the case of seeds, may not grow, but it will give you experience and gardening support from your friends.
  8. Be prepared to fight for your plants' survival. Some plants are favorites of rabbits, moles, Japanese Beetles...Fear not, there are safe solutions to combating most devourers and some just involve container gardening your broccoli on the balcony. Japanese beetles are very bothersome, but can be easy to dispatch by knocking them from your plant into a jug of vegetable oil. This beats spraying a pesticide that may also harm beneficial insects.
  9. Water in the morning or early evening when gardening outdoor plants since many plants watered from above in the hot mid-day sun will suffer shock. Consider how it feels jumping into a pool in mid-summer.  Though the shock we suffer may be endurable; it's best to avoid any unnecessary shocks to your plants.  Morning and early p.m. time frames are also water conserving since most will be used rather than evaporated in minutes.  If you get a late start and a hot dry day is in the forecast, all is not lost, you can still water but make an effort to water only at their base, beneath their leaves.  Nursery owners have no choice but to do this when growing in pots or flats; it simply takes longer.
  10. Start a simple compost pile or buy a compost bin:  using compost in your garden will help you keep your garden soil healthy and moist for your plants.  It also allows you to recycle garden clippings, non-seeding weeds, rotten produce, and non-glossy newspapers instead of throwing this useful organic matter into the trash.  What not to compost outside:  meat, dairy, oils, pasta, diseased plant material, trash.

To be a gardener is very much like being a parent, which means that it, also, is not without obstacles.  Gardening can teach you patience and humility, two good qualities to strengthen before actually having children.  In terms of work, the most fruitful gardener considers how much water, sun, warmth, and nutrients will be necessary to encourage growth and vitality in their plants. Thankfully, for beginners and those who don't have a grower's manual including every plant, care-tags come with new plants; directions come with seeds; and some plants are just very forgiving. 

Growing natives, for example, may be a good choice for a new gardener since these beautiful plants are generally drought and stress-tolerant.  Succulent plants like portulaca, sedums, and prickly-pear cactus (a native) are easy to grow in full sun and well-drained soil.  For shady and moist gardens, consider rampant mints, cardinal flowers, or parsley.

If you've never gardened or you don't have a yard or space, but you would like to join the masses in this rewarding therapeutic tool, then you are in luck; the Lehigh Valley is ripe with community gardens and has a few garden clubs and co-ops, as well.

  1. The Allentown Garden Club is located at 1925 W. Turner St.-  Contact at (610)760-0881.  Find inspiration and learn new things from seasoned gardeners.
  2. Friends of Allentown Parks-  Contact at (610)437-7757.  Volunteer some time, observe, and learn about the adaptable native plants in your parks.
  3. Lehigh Valley Food Co-op is located at 860 Broad St, Suite 115, in Emmaus.  Volunteers are welcome to work on the farm.  They offer a virtual farmers market online and have multiple pick-up locations throughout the Lehigh Valley.
  4. The Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery, located on Rt. 100 in Orefield, is a great resource for native plant species and knowledge to help in your garden project.

**Check the Gardening Resources links section of this website for online gardening advice and supplies.  Happy planting!


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