The Gardens of Eden is either a happy coincidence or a sign of the times. Published in early April, the book goes into the homes of gardeners who are fashioning their environments into lush green landscapes. The book highlights the innovative ways urbanites are building oases amid concrete jungles, the creative liberties modern gardeners are taking with residential spaces and the sustainable benefits of having a garden. And it seems that the world is ready to reinvigorate their green thumb — Google has seen a surge in searches for “backyard gardening.” Getting into gardening, however, can seem like a daunting task as a life is literally in your hands.
“I learned gardening primarily from my mom who was a middle school science teacher but approached gardening like an artist,” Abbye Churchill, author of The Gardens of Eden and former editorial director of Wilder Quarterly, says. “Whenever I get too hung up on the particularity of any one plant she always reminds me that plants want to grow — they were made for this. We’re just here to help them along the way.”
Churchill’s current project at her summer home in Maine is to focus on productive gardening. She’s growing vegetables and herbs, cultivating a garden that’ll produce plants to dye textiles and reinvigorating the fields around her home by repopulating native wildflowers. With years of gardening and extensive research, Churchill shared some tips with us to help you get started on your backyard garden.
How to Start a Backyard Garden
1. Be smart before you plant seeds to die.
Take note of your environment before you dive elbow-deep in soil. In her book, Churchill profiles Lauri Kranz, a garden decorator who’s worked with clients like Adam Scott and Maya Rudolph. In initial consultations, Kranz will analyze the prospective site and determine what plants will thrive in that situation. “Not every plant works in every place,” Kranz says in the book. “The plant will let us know where it wants to be, where it will thrive. All we need to do is pay attention.”
Churchill recommends starting small, with one or two plants, to see how you feel with the initial responsibility. The gardening doesn’t necessarily need to start in the backyard. “Use what you have around you, whatever that is — a windowsill, indoor planter or herb garden, a fire escape, a backyard or a farm,” Churchill says. Test the waters with your first plant and get a feel for the new hobby.
To decide what kind of plants you should start growing, be conscious of where you live. Research what plants are native to where you are, and those varietals will thrive in your backyard. They’ll also be more forgiving if you forget that you’ve recently become a plant parent.
2. Be patient.
You’re taking care of a living, breathing thing. Don’t expect to wake up one morning and suddenly find a jungle in your backyard.
“It can be rewarding to see little shoots from zucchini or squash pop up and grow so quickly, but it can just as often take years from a tree to come into its own, a lilac to really unveil its blossoms or young plantings to take form,” Churchill says. Every bit of attention that goes towards the garden will be tenfold as rewarding.
While the path to a lush garden is long and slow, the final product will be the result of a combination of your love and care and nature’s good graces. Once you’ve found your groove, you’ll want to diversify the types of plants you grow to ensure that there’s always something blooming throughout the year.
3. Get the right gear.
Gardening requires a new set of tools. To start, Churchill recommends seeds from Row 7. Row 7, co-founded by Dan Barber of the Michelin-starred Blue Hill restaurant, sells seeds that were specially bred to grow produce with enhanced flavor, more so than the stuff you’ll find in supermarkets. The hori hori knife is an essential gardening tool thanks to a serrated edge, pointed end and curved design. Churchill is partial to the Carbon Steel Hori Hori knife from Hida Tools), and they’re the choice tool for weeding, digging and cutting.
Churchill’s grail is a pair of Niwaki S-Type Clippers for cutting and pruning her plants. Clippers are important for maintaining plants’ shape and for fielding any unruly growth. To keep her tools in order, Churchill boasts about the Canvas Carry-All Garden Stool from Terrain. Gardening can be strenuous, particularly on the knees, and this two-in-one carry-all doubles as a foldaway stool.
4. Reap the benefits of your work.
Churchill recalls the first time she planted a shiso seed and watched it flourish in a matter of months. While the world continues to reel from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, nurturing a garden and watching it grow into something remarkable reminds us that there is still beauty in this world.
“I think gardening is a direct, tangible way to appreciate and care for the natural world,” Churchill says. “It teaches you to view the world around you differently, with more respect, and to treat it more tenderly.”
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