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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: the first garden

With snow on the ground in Heath, it is hard to believe that spring is here and gardening season has begun. I have seedlings planted and sitting on my new heat mat in the guest room, but not a shoot in sight. Yet.

Since this spring is somewhat delayed, there is still time to think about planting a small vegetable garden, even if you have never had one before. Or, maybe you wish you had a flowery place to sit outside. Or, maybe you wish you had shade and a cool place to relax. The wild and witty Amanda Thomsen of the famous “Kiss My Aster” blog has just given us “Kiss My Aster: A Graphic Guide to Creating a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You.” This book for the beginning gardener with its jolly cartoon-ish illustrations will help you sort out what kind of garden you might design.

Thomsen has real insight into the mind and psyche of the new gardener. You can tell because on Page 14 she asks, “Overwhelmed? Don’t be. You’re just reading a book. Wait until you’re knee deep in quick-set concrete before you freak out.” Does that tell you what kind of gardener she is?

For all her smart aleck frivolity and word play, Thomsen walks you through figuring out what can grow in your area, including taking a camera tour through your neighborhood to see what other people are growing. This tour will give you inspiration and information. Then, you can show the photos of the plants you like to the people at the garden center, get them identified and buy them. She is full of slick tips like this.

“Kiss My Aster” is helpful to the gardener when she is planning to make her yard more beautiful and/or needs more information about starting a vegetable garden. In either case, Thomsen gives brief information about individual plants, trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals for sun or shade; herbs, too.

Thomsen doesn’t think you necessarily have to read this book from beginning to end. She even encourages you to look here and there. “To create the privacy of a hermit, turn to What Neighbors? page 75” or “For a new and improved border or berm, turn to Soil Yourself page 62” or “Got a problem? Consult Weeds Happen page 154.” She includes a sustainability quiz. You get the idea.

Thomsen is great fun. She doesn’t think you have to do everything yourself. She is happy to suggest getting in some temporary help to do heavy jobs. She pays attention to the limits of resources, human and natural. She is even willing to hire a professional gardener or a garden coach. Sometimes the garden coach can be a good friend, or a good friend who knows a good gardener. That’s my additional advice.

When I have talked to people about starting a garden or wanting to “do something” with their yard, I always start out by asking what they want. Do they want a vegetable garden? “Keep the first one small,” I always say. “Think about what you like to eat and plant that. Dig in compost before planting.” And then I tell them they can get good compost locally from Martin’s Farm or Bear Path Farm. They don’t have to wait until they have made their own.

If they want to do something with their yard, I ask what they like to do in their yard? Or what would they like to do? Do they want a patio where they can barbecue and visit with friends? Do they want a privacy barrier between them and their neighbor? Do they want flowers but don’t know a daisy from a phlox?

After identifying what they want in their yard — patio, vine covered fence or a flower garden — I usually ask how much time they have to garden. Couples with children at home usually have less time than couples whose children are grown, although they may have responsibilities to older parents. What are your family responsibilities? Community responsibilities?

After you consider your desires and your constraints, it is time to begin. I recently came across a quote from the avant-garde composer John Cage (1912-1992). He said “Begin anywhere.” I liked that. We might hesitate, but begin. What’s the worst that can happen? Change is the nature of a garden. It will change itself. Or you can make changes. Either way, change in the garden is inevitable. Begin and learn. Begin and embrace change.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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