What does it take to be a seasoned gardener with tips to offer others? Only a little experience and a willingness to share! Cleaning up my vegetable garden in late summer brings to mind my four favorite gardening tips: start early, be prepared, have a seat, and take it in.
Starting early can mean many things to a gardener. It means pulling those weeds before they go to seed, planning for next season, and preparing in advance. Yesterday’s small weeds can quickly become towering monsters with the sole purpose of reproduction, so don’t let up on weeding. Clean up and compost garden debris, being careful to place diseased leaves and weed seeds in a separate location. Be sure to keep pathways clean also, for both health and aesthetic purposes. Test your soil to determine needed nutrients and add fertilizer as appropriate. Prepare for next year by repairing old beds and adding new ones. Autumn brings a welcome coolness that’s perfect for getting an early start on next year.
It’s also important to be prepared with the right tools for the job. My must-haves (besides a hat, gloves, sunscreen, and herbal insect repellent) are a trowel, a bucket, and my two new favorites—a serrated gardening knife and a Dutch hoe. Although I use other tools to prepare rows and beds and to handle end-of-season clean up, nothing is used more than my trowel. It is valuable, not only to plant and transplant, but also to insert in the ground besides weeds as I pull them. This works especially well after a soaking rain. A bucket is my constant companion for transferring weeds and plant clippings to the compost bin, with woody plants, diseased leaves, and seedy weeds going to a separate pile. My new heavy-duty serrated gardening knife has proved valuable for removing weeds and also great for dividing root clumps. The Dutch hoe allows me to use a push motion to efficiently cut weeds off just below the soil surface. So, while we all tend to rely on our tried-and-true favorite tools, I encourage you to try new ones.
While much of what we do as gardeners is physical in nature, I’ve found that it’s wonderful to have a chair or bench in the garden for an occasional rest. Being able to sit down for a break not only keeps me refreshed so I can keep on working longer, but also encourages me to observe my surroundings more closely. I do most mid-summer gardening in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid intense heat, but a place to sit still improves the day.
Pausing to pay attention to your surroundings connects you both to your plants and to the earth. Look for emerging sprouts, opening flowers, and early preventable insect damage. Listen to birds and breezes. Smell not only the flowers but the herbs and tomato vines and ripening fruit. Smell the rain coming, the seasons changing, and the earth itself. Taste tomatoes fresh from the vines, early-ripened strawberries, and crisp peas and green beans. Feel all those garden sensations—a prickly cucumber, a smooth pepper, and a bumpy-textured gourd. Touch the feathery tops of carrots and fennel, then grasp the reliable strength of a rake or trowel in your hand. Gardening is more than dirt on one’s hands or sweat on a brow. It is truly a feast for all the senses.
While most of my time in the garden is spent working, I’ve found that many of my best memories come from moments in between. Starting preparation early, both in the spring and fall, helps me to think through plans and keeps me dreaming those garden dreams. Having efficient and favorite tools in the garden makes the job easier and more enjoyable. The benches and chairs in my garden invite me out there and provide a place to share reflections with a friend, write in a journal, or just rest. Momentary breaks from work afford time to use all my senses to gain an awareness of the environment.
Yes, gardening is work. But it isn’t all about work. My tips—start early, be prepared, provide a place to rest, and utilize your senses to take it in—can be summed up in a single word that’s my favorite gardening tip of all: enjoy!
Article written by Mary Alice Ramsey, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer. Mary Alice is a native of Western North Carolina and has gardened here for more than fifty years.