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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: ‘20-30 Something Garden Guide’

When did you start get-ting into gardening? I was 25 and we had moved into our first house on Maple Street in Canton, Connecticut. It was a big old Victorian with a large front yard shaded by the maples that marched up and down both sides of the street. It had almost no backyard, just an 8-foot wide cement patio between the house and a steep weedy bank.

My first plantings were marigolds on either side of the back door. Bit by bit, I turned the bank into what I called a rock garden. No real rock garden aficionado would have recognized it as such. The function of my rocks was to help hold the soil and some very common plants in place. The only plant I specifically remember was basket of gold, Aurenia saxatilis (perhaps because it was the most successful), but I certainly knew nothing about Latin names or plant taxonomy at the time. I was lucky; basket of gold is perfectly suited for sites that bake in the sun and have well-drained soil

Seven years later, my first, very small, vegetable garden was between the side of my house on Grinnell Street in Greenfield and the driveway. Lettuce, peas and beans were my first crops. Thanks to the gift of a load of compost from a new friend, the garden did very well.

I mention my own experience because Dee Nash’s new book, the “20-30 Something Garden Guide” (St. Lynn’s Press $17.95) takes me back to those blissful and excited days when I knew nothing but plunged ahead anyway. Nash understands that a young adult’s first forays into gardening are often constrained by full-time jobs and caring for young children. She successfully introduces novice gardeners into the basics of gardening with encouragement and some of the latest garden knowledge and techniques.

The “20-30 Something Garden Guide” is divided into three main sections that first take the gardener into a container garden and all the basic information about potting soil, garden soil, fertilizers, watering and bugs. Let it be known that Nash’s own garden is organic. In addition to providing herself with healthy food and beautiful flowers, she is determined to do her part in supporting the natural world with its pollinators and other bugs, good and bad.

She also takes the gardener into the second and third years of gardening, as knowledge and experience grow. Learning to be a gardener is no different from learning math — you learn to count, then add then multiply. Knowledge and interest build on each other and pretty soon you are learning the difference between open pollinated plants or hybrids or GMOs. We may start out thinking utilitarian thoughts about fresh food, but soon we are appreciating the beauty of our vegetable plants and thinking about making the vegetable garden prettier. With Nash as our guide, our perspective of the values of the garden will always be shifting and enlarging.

Of course, even when you are concentrating on vegetables, herbs, and those flowers that attract vital pollinators to your garden, it is inevitable that you will want to add ornamentals and look for ways to design a garden with paths, flowers and a place to rest. “Here’s where we look at creative ways to enhance your garden so it becomes the place where everyone wants to spend time ... having fun with garden art ... And we mustn’t forget about making places for just sitting and doing nothing at all.”

For those energetic moments, she includes good instructions for DIY projects like building raised-bed frames or laying a stone path. Her recipe for manure tea requires a little energy, but if you have access to manure, this is a great way to fertilize the garden.

Gardening in Heath as I do with no smartphone service, I am amazed by a Nash tip. How many seeds or plants to buy? “With the help of Siri on my iPhone, I keep notes throughout the garden season. This info syncs with my laptop and makes my job easier in January when I am tempted to order too much, too soon.” The young adults of today have so many new ways of keeping records and reminders and getting information!

On the other hand, she encourages those without experience, land, or smartphones to start small and begin. I was pleased she devotes a chapter to the joys and benefits of community gardening.

Nash is an engaging writer, with a conversational style. She is an excellent coach, like the one she urges every new gardener, of any age, to find in the first pages of her book. We all look for information and advice in different places. I began with a subscription to Organic Gardening magazine. It was my bible. Nash’s book will serve well as a bible for today’s new gardener. The book includes a good index and list of online resources from seed companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, to plant and equipment suppliers and conservation organizations.

If you want more advice from Nash, you can visit her at her informative and inspiring blog www.reddirtramblings.com and http://20-30somethinggardenguide.com, where you’ll also be able to link to the Dear Friend and Gardener virtual garden club, where a whole variety of gardener/bloggers (including me) will be writing about their vegetable garden adventures this year.

Pat Leuchtman, who is The Recorder’s garden columnist, has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her Web site: www.commonweeder.com.

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