I’ve been perennial gardening for years. Adam and I were sort of thrown into it nearly 10 years ago, when we moved to Maine, and the house we bought was surrounded by an amazing array of perennial plants and flowers. I’d grown up gardening with my mother, and felt, at the time, that I had a pretty good handle on plants. I could get mostly any houseplant to grow & thrive, and had luck in our previous apartments with summer annuals out on the balcony. But 8 fully landscaped flower beds on two acres (the woman from whom we purchased the house even left us with a detailed map of the flowers and plants – yeah, that might have tipped us off)… this was a different animal altogether. During our five years in Maine, we had some gardening successes (amazing echinacea and lilac bushes) and failures (composting, vegetable gardening, and weed management - FAIL), but in all, we learned SO MUCH about gardening (namely, never, ever, buy a house with 8 huge meticulously landscaped perennial beds again, because man oh man, that is a LOT of mulch), and came to love it in spite of the challenges. We even got married in our gardens (cue giant previously mentioned echinacea):
When we moved to our apartment in New Jersey, I really missed the calming aspect of gardening, in spite of the work. I missed tending the plants (that didn’t talk back, but let you know by growing bigger & more beautiful, that you were doing a good job nonetheless), smelling the fragrant lilac in early spring, and the feeling of great energy and beauty that exuded from each plant. So, as soon as we bought our house here, I set to work spending a near fortune all my free time on planting New Jersey-friendly perennials, and slowly expanding our tiny front flower bed into the beautiful garden it is today. I’ve always involved the children when gardening; from the time my daughter was a baby – I’d set her out on a blanket next to the bed where I was working – until today; where both of my children happily work beside me, and even lead the way in gardening.
My daughter & son leading the way out the back yard to our pumpkin garden
This year, since both kids are of the age where they can actively participate in and learn about the details of planting, caring for, looking after, trimming, and harvesting plants, I decided to take another step forward in gardening, and we started a “vegetable garden” and container veggies. Now, I put that first one in quotes because our current “vegetable garden” actually only consists of pumpkins, sunflowers, and ornamental corn (which we planted today), due to the unknown soil quality and potential contaminants. I’m not comfortable eating anything we plant out there. However, because I think there’s great teaching and motivational value for my children in being able to actually EAT the literal fruits of your labor, I also decided we’d take on the task of container gardening in our enclosed back yard (out of reach of the landscapers who liberally and frequently spray pesticides through our neighborhood).
After an initial less-than-stellar attempt at locating organic potting mix at a big box store this weekend, I elicited the assistance of twitter. With the help of Hobo_Mama & innerwizdom’s sage gardening advice, I was able to locate an appropriate natural potting medium for our new cucumbers (and for transplanting our tomato and strawberry). The kids and I made a special trip to Whole Foods and found an organic potting mix by Organic Mechanics and an organic compost & peat mix by Coast of Maine (rather apropos, no?).
As an aside (and let me say, neither of the aformentioned companies have contacted me in any way, and I paid for these items myself - I just feel it necessary to tell you about how awesome they are), the difference between the two actually organic soils and the so-called "organic" soil by Miracle Gro that I was duped into buying at the local big box store is unbelievable. The M.G. (abbreviating from here on out, as not to attract any more unneeded attention to said mainstream brand) soil smelled so noxious – even IN the bag (unopened!) in our house – that that I had to immediately put it outside. There was NO WAY I was going to put our edible vegetables in that. After opening the bag, I discovered it was heavy, dense, smelly, and full of unknown bits of who knows what. I didn’t want my children to even touch the stuff. I should have been tipped off by the warning on the back, indicating to keep away from children. It’s SOIL! Keep away from children? Ey yi yi… can you say greenwashing? In contrast, the Organic Mechanics and Coast of Maine soils were rich, dark, and smelled heavenly (like dirt SHOULD!) yet were light & fluffy to boot. I willingly encouraged my kids get themselves dirty in the organic soils.
My son alternated scoops from both bags and filled the container. My daughter placed our cucumber plants (we chose a low-growing bush variety - good for containers, and pickling!) in the midst, and gently pressed down the additional soil my son placed around the base of the baby plants. We put in a metal trellis on which the cukes could travel up. Watered, and done!
Next, came tending the back garden. We discovered that something (we’ve seen deer, groundhog, birds, and squirrels visit our garden, hence the installation of the fence) had eaten the heads off of our sunflower sprouts; which was our third attempt at growing sunflowers out back. On the upside, our Northern Giant pumpkin is really taking off! We also had some random wild corn sprout up in our garden, so we decided not to leave those stalks lonely, and planted some ornamental red corn.
The kids turned up the dirt, pulled weeds, and prepped the soil.
My three and five year old painstakingly placed one kernel at a time into each hole and gently covered them. I was amazed, as I always am, by the gentleness and patience my children naturally display around the plants. We watered everything, and voila! Another fabulous day in the garden! Here’s hoping nothing decides to dig up the kernels as special treats.
Up next? Transplanting our tomato & strawberry plants into the fragrant Maine soil. So... what are you planting?