lessons from a garden

edible squash blossom flowers

Seed, sprout, flower, fruit. It’s a pattern that repeats itself again and again in the garden. The seed responds to the water and the sun, and the sprout grows, spreading its roots into the soil. Soon a sturdy plant begins to put out flowers, and the bees and ants carry the pollen to fertilize the fruit. Finally the fruit begins to set and grow, and if all goes well, you eat from its yield. From the fruit the seed is harvested for the next season, and the pattern begins again. For me, the transformation of the backyard from grass to garden in a few short months has been a source of many lessons. Here’s a few things I’ve learned so far, with a few resources that have been helpful to me. 

Get good soil. Healthy soil is the all-important base for a healthy garden. Find a trustworthy, knowledgeable and helpful local garden center or hardware and feed store to help you build a good soil base mix. Beyond that, having enough soil depth for plants to produce good-sized fruit is essential. Before you plant, be sure you find out how much room a plant needs to grow, and whether you will need to put a trellis or other support if it is a vine or pole type of plant. If you don’t want to dig up your backyard or only have a small amount of space, you can grow a huge variety of plants in portable containers. At this point, our garden is a combination of raised bed planters and containers.

Water and feed regularly, and wander daily. If you don’t feed your plants and the soil regularly enough, or you water too much, or the summer happens to be a relentless one, a weakened plant can succumb to disease or bad bugs though you try your best to save it. But beyond watering and feeding appropriately, most important of all is just being present every day and observing. It’s true, a wander through the garden is good therapy, but with a little extra attention it’s also good prevention.

the dragonfly, a beneficial bug

Get to know your garden’s inhabitants. Along the way, insects both good and bad find their way to the garden, with no invitation necessary. Get a good local bug book to help you identify the helpful or destructive inhabitants, since both ugly and pretty can be either very helpful, or not so much. Also invest in a good local organic garden book for natural solutions to a destructive insect infestation or soil diseases such as fungus or mildew.


Appreciate the experience. You can’t be in a hurry when you garden, and this is perhaps its best benefit. By tending the garden, you connect with the pattern of life and its rhythms. You learn to watch and listen. You realize that if you don’t pay attention, a basic part of life can be lost. The garden needs you, and you need the garden. In this process, you are changed in small ways as you watch small things experience big transformations.

salt marsh moth (formerly a fuzzy black caterpillar)

Gardening Resources:

(All resources listed use organic methods)

The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food by Tanya L.K. Denckla
information on 765 varieties of vegetables, herbs, fruits and nuts, and formulas and techniques that control 201 pests and diseases organically

A Garden Primer (Second Edition) by Barbara Damrosch
The essentials of planning, planting and upkeep

The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey
Create container gardens of vegetables, herbs, fruits & edible flowers

Organic Gardening magazine, published by Rodale, Inc.
Growing guides, planting tips, regional gardening calendars, product reviews and more

For Texas gardeners:

Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening by J. Howard Garrett and C. Malcolm Beck
The total guide to growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and other edible plants the natural way

Texas Bug Book (Revised Edition) by J. Howard Garrett and C. Malcolm Beck
The good, the bad & the ugly

The Dirt Doctor website by J. Howard Garrett
An organic gardening website

Texas Gardener magazine, published by Suntex Communications, Inc.
The magazine for Texas gardeners, by Texas gardeners

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