In the ground

It’s kind of funny to me that I write a column about all things made and grown locally and I can’t grow squat. Actually, it’s more sad than funny. The few attempts I’ve made at buying—and keeping alive—houseplants and flowers have failed miserably. Ditto on a little herb garden. I even once killed a cactus (how do you do that?!).

But I do love the idea of having a garden, especially one that provides not only beauty but also food. And I do envy people with green thumbs, so I’ve been thinking about giving it another try. Maybe with some help I can make it work.

So in a step in that direction, I made a visit to Magnolia Gift & Garden, the inviting little nursery off East Avenue near Safeway. To be fair, it’s not really that little. Upon entering the grounds, you see the property does expand to the rear. I’ve always been curious about the fun garden sculptures visible from the road, so it was nice to finally stop in and see them up close.

I was immediately greeted by employee Sammy Brown, a delightful young woman, who happily indulged my naïve questions about starting a garden despite my decidedly brown thumb.

“The first thing to do with a home garden is make sure you’ve got good soil,” she said. That means amending the soil with compost—something I’ve never done but I’m confident there’s a good tutorial on YouTube to get me through it. She also recommended a raised bed, so that should make the soil issue a bit easier.

“The second thing is to start with a healthy plant,” she added. In other words, pick varieties that do well in our climate, don’t buy plants that already have yellowing leaves and buying organic ensures no pesticides have been used.

Brown said she likes to incorporate flowering plants into her vegetable garden because they attract pollinating insects. I especially liked her idea of growing sunflowers—they’re so vibrant!

For my final question, I asked her, “If I were to start a vegetable garden with five plants, which ones would you recommend?” Her top five: cherry tomato, cucumber, zucchini, hot peppers (because bell peppers tend to burn here) and pumpkin. “Starting from seed can be really fun,” she added. Cucumber, zucchini and pumpkin plants can all start from seed, but she recommends getting already established tomato and pepper plants “because they take so long to get started.”

I’m not sure yet if I’m brave enough to start such a large project, but I have time. Brown said the timing still isn’t quite right for planting a summer garden—“Give it two or three more weeks,” she advised. (That would probably be just enough time to get the soil ready.) Maybe I’ll try just one plant and see how I fare. I’d love to hear reader suggestions on what grows well for them, especially if they’re terrible plant parents like I am.