In my early 20s, I moved to a home in the country and had my first opportunity to grow a large country garden. My neighbor graciously plowed up a large area of my backyard and gave me a high level overview of how to grow crops. Within a few months, the area was almost completely over run by weeds and produced very little food. Why? Because I didn't understand my limitations.
At the time the garden was plowed up, I was commuting to a local college and working part time. My time was limited, my funding was limited and my knowledge of growing vegetables was limited. I loved gardening and had completed an internship in horticulture, but my understanding of growing food was limited to planting a half dozen tomato plants in the backyard each summer and applying Miracle Grow.
A number of years later, I tried again. This time, I took my limitations into account, and started with a small 3 foot by 4 foot garden. I read "The Square Foot Garden" and learned a bit about growing food. I followed the recipe for good soil, planted foods that I enjoyed eating, and planted only what I had time to take care of. That summer, I grew a variety of foods, including tomatoes, beans, and onions. While there was still plenty of room for learning, I had succeeded in making a small garden productive.
As you plan your garden, take a few minute to plan within your boundaries. With a little work, you increase your probability of being successful and can build on your success.
Time: Realistically look at the number of hours you can devote to your gardening. Building your soil with amendments and covering the ground with ground cover will cut down on weeds and promote healthy growth, but plants need attention. They will attract insects and need to be watered, pruned or trained. If you are limited to only a few hours each week - or each month - consider starting with a few flowering plants in large pots or a square foot garden. It's far more gratifying to harvest a few tomatoes and onions in a square foot garden or enjoy a planter full of flowering annuals than to look at a large area of weeds and feel the pressure of work you don't have time to do.
Physical limitations: Consider realistically what physical limitations you have. Increasingly, Americans are struggling with weight related or work related illnesses. Do you deal with back pain or carpel tunnel? While gardening is a great way to get out and exercise, if doing a lot of digging will cause injury to your back or wrists, you may need to consider another option. Work with a local carpenter to build raised beds that are three or four feet wide and three feet tall, with an edge that you can sit on. Have the garden filled with with a good soil mix. This will allow you to spend some time gardening without extensive digging.
Funding: Gardening can be done inexpensively, but you need to create a budget and plan your purchases. See if your neighbors or friends are digging up or dividing flowers this year - you may be able to trade your work for their extra plants. Older containers can be freshened up by painting them to look antiqued or new. See if local craft stores have free information on how to update your containers, or see what suggestions are on the internet. For more ideas, see Frugal Hints for dressing up your garden.
Space: Small gardens and large gardens both have their limitations. Large gardens can be tough to maintain unless they are carefully planned, while small gardens can easily become cluttered. Sketch several plans using crayons or colored pencils to get an idea of how you want your garden laid out. Another option is to use magazine photos to plan your garden.
With a little planning, you can create a garden that fits into your lifestyle.
If you enjoyed this article, become a subscriber! Just select the "Subscribe" icon near my picture. You will receive e-mail notifications of each article as they are posted. Be among the first to know of the upcoming gardening events in Charlotte!