By Victoria Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
There are as many ways to garden as there are people on the planet. Like snowflakes and fingerprints, each individual garden is a unique expression of the person who lovingly created and tends to it.
When it comes to gardening, there is no such thing as right or wrong. Oh sure, there is a plethora of knowledge to be learned about gardening practices. There are reams of books written about everything regarding the subject, from soil, compost, seed starting, maintenance and pest control to hardscaping and design and everything in between. And even the most seasoned gardener never stops learning either through the wisdom of others or through their own trial and error.
But it’s when the gardener gets out there in the dirt that the magic happens. This is where right or wrong disappears. Every individual has their own motivation for getting out there. Each person has their own idea of what a garden means to them. What do they want to grow? Do they want it to be functional or pretty (or both)? Are they interested in growing things to eat or beautiful, fragrant flowers? How big do they want it to be? How much time would they like to devote to it? What style do they like–very formal and contained, or wild and free? The questions (and answers) go on and on.
And the result of the limitless choices that each gardener faces is an extraordinary array of gardens as diverse and individual as humanity itself. It’s one of the things that makes those of us who are passionate about our own gardens so eager to meet other gardeners and exchange ideas (and plants!) We are endlessly enthusiastic about showing off and discussing our own gardens, but we never tire of touring others.
And because there is no right or wrong in the beautiful world of gardening, you are free to do your own thing. Are you perfectly content to have one houseplant on your windowsill? It’s your choice! Would you like a few herbs or edibles on your balcony or deck? Wonderful! Would you prefer to dedicate a large plot of your yard to growing vegetables? Go for it! Do you want to surround yourself with plants and flowers? Beautiful! It’s your garden.
In the immortal words of the Burger King himself “Have it your way!” And I might add, should you be hesitating, remember the wisdom of Nike and “Just do it!” You can’t go wrong. There’s no such thing.
Just in my own little circle of friends, I see a wide range of gardening interests, energy, and styles. I recently canvassed a few of them to tell me about their gardening desires and incentives. As with most gardeners, they were quite eager to tell me about their experiences. Here is just a bit of what they told me:
I met Nicole three years ago when she took one of my garden classes at the library. She had recently moved into her first house and wanted to learn about how to plant and care for some vegetables and flowers. Well, fast forward to now: her little yard has exploded with a profusion of vegetables and flowers galore! She told me that her initial impetus was to provide her family (her husband and two daughters, now 6 and 3) with some good, healthy, nutritious food.
Nicole knew that her suburban upbringing had left her with a disconnect as to where the food her family ate was actually coming from and she wanted to change that for her little girls. So she put in some raised beds (lead in her soil left her unable to plant in the ground), and she planted a few seeds and then the magic happened!
Not only did Nicole grow food that first year, but she became inspired! She found the garden experience to be an immersive one: “The sounds of the birds, the smell of the lilac bush. The taste of the Juneberry, right off the tree. The sunflowers towering above you. I’m so grateful to share the wonder with my two girls”.
The next year, more raised beds went in, and she started creating beds throughout the yard as well. In fact, each time I go over, I think there is something new to see in her garden. Suffice to say she was bitten by the gardening bug and there is no going back.
Her family not only grows what they enjoy eating but have discovered the joy of flowers along the way. They grow some to help attract beneficial insects into their garden and others just for the pure joy of it. To their (and my) delight, they were wildly successful this year in scattering a mix of pollinator seeds on a problem slope that resulted in a gorgeous and colorful display of happy flowers.
And her girls are with her every step of the way, planting, harvesting, and, of course, eating! They are most definitely connecting to their food source! Nicole proudly watches her older daughter, Summer, give garden tours to friends, and notes that she is already very knowledgeable about all the plants and flowers they grow.
Just up the road from Nicole, another friend, Laura, an empty nester and her retired husband, Chris, are very satisfied to keep their garden simple. They consider it a hobby and are content to keep their plot just big enough for the two of them. Laura is happy enough to save a little money by growing their own, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, greens, peppers, garlic, and carrots, which she supplements with a few pots of herbs on her deck.
Laura has a very busy life, so she likes to keep her flower planting simple. She does not go overboard, but her yard always looks tidy with some bright splashes of color. Just perfect for their needs.
Then there is my (Master Gardener) friend Linda. Oh boy! You take one look at her house, and you know a person with a passion for gardening lives there! Her front lawn is a phantasmagoria of color and beauty.
Linda considers her garden’s style to be that of an English cottage garden. She likes the informal nature of that and the dense planting that goes along with it. She also likes the fact that the closely planted flowers suppress the weeds.. The informality also allows her to be constantly moving things around or adding new plants.
But Linda has discovered a downside to this when some plants get lost by being overtaken or shaded out by their neighbors.
And she has realized over time that there are some locations where a more formal design might work better, such as the front entrance to the house, so she is working on that area.
Linda is also working on adding more vertical elements to her garden, to fulfill her growing passion for vining plants (she has already grown thunbergia, moonflowers, cypress vine, cardinal climber, morning glory, and cups and saucers. She delights in growing these and many of her other annual flowers from seed.
Linda’s goal for her garden is to have something in bloom at all times, and to have an overall look of plants and colors blending into each other like a Monet painting. If you ask me, she has already achieved this in spades!
And, as for me–I am kind of a free-for-all gardener. It’s anything goes around here! I love collecting plants and flowers from wherever I can get them. I have my huge vegetable garden, which through the years has been overtaken by more and more flowers. And it is not unusual to find edibles growing among my ornamental gardens as well.
I often let the plants dictate my garden style as they “volunteer” where they may. My vegetable garden has lettuce, tomatoes, squash and melon plants and dill popping up everywhere in the spring, in addition to sunflowers, poppies, Agastache, and gloriosa daisies. Dotted throughout, you will find irises, bee balm, and chives.
And often my flower beds will sport some lettuce, dill or an occasional squash plant as well. This year in particular, I have a newly expanded flower bed that has enthusiastically filled itself with volunteer veggies before I could even begin to plan what to grow in it.
I do actually plan things and plant things deliberately, but I find my gardening has become increasingly about “editing” what nature has given me. It’s a fun and challenging adventure, full of delightful surprises!
This is just a small smattering of the garden styles you can find out there. What is yours? Or if you haven’t grown a garden (or a plant) yet, are you ready to get out there and discover what it is? Just do it your way!
A long, long time ago, after the birth of her third child, Victoria made the life-changing decision to leave the work world behind and devote herself to being a full-time mom and homemaker. Along with her new title of Domestic Engineer, she took on the role of the Chief Home Economist for the family.
At first, it was scary to try to live on less than half their income, but Victoria found that she not only rose to the challenge but thrived in the enjoyment of learning to live their best life with limited resources. She embraced this new frugal lifestyle of the at-home-mom and went on to add a fourth child to the mix. And their family was complete.
Along the way she acquired a great deal of wisdom in how to not only avoid debt, but pay off mortgages early, buy cars for cash, travel on a shoe-string budget, and send kids to college with no student loans, all while also saving a tidy nest egg for retirement. She currently educates others in these skills through her business Bright Future.
Now living the life of a modern homesteader in the Hudson Valley, New York, Victoria has added gardening to her list of skill sets as she grows many of her own vegetables to supplement her family’s primarily vegan diet. And she has come to realize that this waste-not, want-not, carbon-friendly, sustainable life she is living is not only benefiting her own family but also our Mother Earth, and that each of us has the obligation to live a responsibly sustainable life not only for ourselves, but for the greater good of our community, and our planet. We can all do this one household and backyard at a time. We are the world! And it all begins right at home.
Victoria can be reached at email@example.com