One of my earliest memories is gardening with my parents. We had a spacious backyard, and about half of it was dedicated to a robust vegetable garden. Both of my parents immigrated from Italy, and they had grown up farming and growing most of their own food out of basic necessity. It was a true labor of love and a passion that, to be honest, I wanted very little to do with. (Probably because the one time I was told to go pick “some basil, like 4-5” I picked 5 branches, not leaves and was banished from our garden for the rest of the summer!).
When my husband and I bought our home almost 11 years ago, one of the first things my inlaws did was start planting flowers and making projects for where we could put our garden. “STOP!” I remember saying. My husband doesn’t really eat vegetables and wanted nothing to do with gardening. That didn’t stop my mother-in-law. I must admit, thanks to her dedication, I have lovely flowers, including my favorite hydrangeas.
Both my boys have inherited the family green thumb and have been involved with the two diverse and booming gardens…at my mother-in-law’s and brother-in-law’s homes. They have begged for years for us to allow them to garden at our house.
“We don’t have the right kind of soil,” and “that’s what you do with Nonni at her house, not here,” These have been my go-to phrases to avoid a full-blown garden. My inlaws had indulged them anyway by planting a few asparagus, cucumber, and tomato plants in a tiny plot over the years.
This spring, I finally caved, and we started growing romaine lettuce from a stub inside a glass jar. My older son is loving the responsibility of changing the water every few days and monitoring its growth. We also inherited some strawberry pups and planted them in hopes of a hardy crop and a lower grocery bill. They’ve even gone so far as to ask to replant avocados (which no one eats in my house and take FOREVER to produce a plant) and pineapples from its top!
One of the reasons I had a change of heart was because I saw how much joy and purpose these little plants have been giving my boys. At age 5 and almost 9, they can do nearly all of it independently. They love the act of digging, planting, and watering. Whether it be from seeds or plantings, their motor skills and care for other living things continue to develop. A bonus is that gardening really does improve their moods and it’s a fairly easy life-long hobby they are cultivating at this young age.
Some Easy Tips for Novice Gardeners:
- Don’t take it personally if your plants die. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. (We started with herb seeds in March…. we’re still waiting for something).
- Local Nurseries and Community Gardens are gems. The staff at smaller nurseries and gardening centers are extremely knowledgeable. Don’t be shy to tap into them and cultivate relationships. Community gardens often have master gardener programs, and if you don’t have much space at your home, they allow you to still garden. *Stamford Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens has a great program.
- Gardening is constant…if you want it to be. Start off slow and small if you’re unsure of what you’re doing or know you don’t want to spend hours gardening. With the boys, we started with many seedlings and container plants. Eventually, we moved outdoors. If you want to go big, you can also research different ways to extend your season. (Learn your zone: first and last frost dates and season length. You can layer on things like floating row covers and polytunnels to move your grow zone one zone south.)
- Plant what makes you happy. To me, this is the most important tip. I started with lettuce and strawberries because we love them. I had also researched that lettuce was pretty low maintenance and fast-growing. Both of those were appealing and made us all happy.
If you have any gardening tips or tricks I didn’t mention, feel free to add them!
Local Nurseries with Curbside Pick-up and Delivery:
Designs by Lee (Stamford)
Eden Farms (Stamford)
Sam Bridge Nursery (Greenwich)
Reynolds Farm Nursery (Norwalk)
Gardener’s Center and Florist (Darien)
High Ridge Nursery (Stamford)
Ganim’s Garden Center (Fairfield)
Fairgate Farm (Stamford)
Fodor Farm (Norwalk)
Cherry Lawn Park (Darien)