How to Start a Garden

A bouquet of colourful zinnias cut from a garden.
Colourful zinnia flowers grown in my garden

Last spring I decided to dig out the lawn in front of the house and start a garden for the very first time. The stay-at-home order was in effect, and no one knew how long it would last. Doing something—anything—that wasn’t confined by four white walls helped to cope with the isolation of quarantine life.  

It wasn’t long before I realized that digging up the lawn to prepare the garden bed was not an easy task. Every day I would pull out the shovel and pound a tiny area to uproot the grass. Sometimes I’d get splinters on my hands from the shovel’s wooden handle, even while wearing gardening gloves. (Gardening tip: get puncture-resistant gloves.) It took weeks to dig a small plot of land that was large enough for one row of flowers situated in front of weeds that were impossible to get rid of. 

Meanwhile, I started seedlings indoors and made use of the three large bay windows in a spare room I never spent much time in until now. While at a seed exchange at Allan Gardens, I picked up tiny packets of seeds to grow tall yellow marigolds, bachelor button (cornflowers), cupid’s dart and coriander. I planted queen red lime zinnias from seeds saved from my mother’s garden. It was a rare variety not found in retail stores and sent from a kind stranger online. To add more colour, I purchased a variety pack of zinnia seeds to grow blush pink, red wine and magenta cut flowers. Zinnias are perfect for beginners and attract pollinators like butterflies and bees. 

Before committing to this new hobby, I had zero experience growing anything. Houseplants rarely stayed alive under my care. Bouquets were for special occasions. Even the fake plants I had at home were collecting dust. (Nothing wrong with owning fake plants if you don’t want to deal with pests.) Still, I pictured myself surrounded by an abundance of stunning blooms to keep me happy during the summer and fall. 

Growing a garden is rewarding and therapeutic. When the garden centres and flower shops opened up, I brought home more plants than I had space for. I learned the names of plant species and tried to identify what’s in my neighbourhood. (Gardening tip 2: you can read up or find Youtube videos on most plant varieties online.) Perennials like roses have short bloom periods. You’d have to pay close attention to the buds of a bush in order to catch the Instagram-worthy backdrop.

There were successes and failures as well. During the first attempt to transplant my flowers to the outdoor garden, a sudden cold frost almost killed three months of growth. I had to dig the flowers up and bring them back inside, hoping the roots would remain somewhat intact. The netted trellis built for the sweet peas remained unused because the vines barely grew past my knees. I had two containers of strawberries. One yielded tiny berries that were too small to eat. The other produced large, delicious strawberries that were quickly snatched by animals. 

Most gardeners add special soil to improve an area’s growing medium. Not me! I sprinkled a thin layer of top soil and what undoubtedly was not the greatest fertilizer to prepare the beds. Most of the flowers did well anyway. It likely had to do with the amount of sunlight the plants got. The south-facing side that received plenty of sunshine did the best.

Come fall, the violet salvias, dahlias and zinnias were going strong. Then a chilly evening wiped out the entire garden overnight. The vibrant green space became grey and brown. Mother Nature can be cruel sometimes. Seasons change. The plants have to die.

A year has gone by since the start of the pandemic. I would have never thought I’d develop a green thumb and turn into a crazy plant lady during this time. All it took were seeds, dirt, water, determination and forced free time due to the lockdown. With gardening, you don’t have to get it right—because it’s trial and error combined with ideal growing conditions—you just have to get started. 

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2 thoughts on “How to Start a Garden

    • mimi says:

      We’ll see. It hasn’t been warm enough to start up yet. Some of the plants self seeded. Monitoring the area that had dahlias to see if they would return.

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