Gardening as Self-Care and Tips for Those without a Green Thumb
I was reading a newsletter I had gotten from the Chicago Botanic Garden about how to keep peonies alive; I immediately sent it off to my sister who had been mentioning how difficult it was for her to keep her own peonies thriving. As soon as the sent confirmation appeared on my screen, I thought to myself “this is how I know I’m old”. Where I once was sending drunk pictures of myself at a late night bar to her, I was now sending garden newsletters. The thought hit me like a ton of bricks, at how different my life had become in my thirties. But then, the next best thought came into my mind – I really love gardening.
It was as if the realization was brand new, but also as if I have always known that at the same time. I have been gardening since I was little. My dad tore up most of the back half of our yard to plant tomatoes every summer, and I loved helping him tend the garden. Once I entered high school and started to be too cool for “old people” things, I completely lost touch with how that time with my dad made me feel. Yet, when my husband and I bought a house, planting a garden was one of the first things I wanted to create at our new home. Somehow, I knew without consciously knowing that a garden helps me feel at peace.
The hardest part of planting a garden for me once I was an adult was getting over the self-criticism that I do not know how to do this. That I am not going to do it perfectly. So, for anyone else who has perfectionism tendencies (or has no idea where to start) but feels that pull to plant some stuff, here are some tips to get you started.
Garden Starter Tips
The first thing to know is when and what you want to plant. Since I think of gardening as part of my self-care routine, the most important thing with selecting what to plant is what you are excited about planting. For me, that is vegetables and herbs that I will use for some of my favorite dishes. Recently I have chosen tomatoes and cilantro to make pico de gallo. I also plant peppers since my kids love them. The only logical check that I would suggest is to ensure that the plants you are choosing are conducive to your climate. The farmer’s almanac is a great resource for this.
I have typically gone the route of buying baby plants (aka seedlings) at a home improvement store to plant at the beginning of summer. Another option is planting seeds indoors to transfer outdoors when it gets warmer. This is a cheaper option, but can be a little more time intensive, so here is a quick outline of how that works.
For a truly easy start I recommend using the Jiffy seedling greenhouse starter kit. All you do is add water to the bin and watch them expand like magic. Then you add 2 to 3 seeds of your choice per pod, water your seedlings and put the greenhouse top back on. It is important to find a warm, sunny spot in the house and check on them daily to make sure they are retaining water. Make sure they get sun at least for 4-6 hours per day and most important that they do not dry out. If you find that you don’t have a warm enough location, then you can purchase plant heating mats. You can leave a heating mat on 24/7. If you plan on putting the seedlings in a spot that lacks sunlight, I also recommend grow lights. These particular ones have a timer for 3/6/12 hours so you can set it and forget it. If you notice that any of the seedlings are growing faster than you anticipated, you should transfer those to larger grow pots with a seedling dirt mixture. The pot is biodegradable so you can just stick them in the ground when you transfer them outside.
Once you have selected your plants and gotten them to the stage of putting them in the ground, it is important to mix the soil with fertilizer to ensure the plants have enough nutrients. Plant the individual seedlings wide enough apart so they each have enough room to grow. Make sure to water them well once planted, and then add mulch to the top if you have weed problems. The mulch for me has been a huge help, not only for weeds but also in making my garden look clean and fresh.
Keeping It Alive
The last part I will mention about gardening starter tips is the maintenance – this for me is the most important part, again back to using this as part of my self-care routine.
I used to think that “self-care” was only possible if I had a full day to go to a spa, or hours away from my kids. However, what I’ve come to find is that it is possible to take care of yourself in ways that truly feel good in small increments, like taking 10 minutes to water my garden and pull out weeds every few days. The trick is that you have to really be in that moment - not thinking about all of the other things that you have to do or worrying about that next meeting on your calendar. My favorite tool to get into this mindset is one we learned from Dr. Valerie Rein, called the Re-Power Tool. I use this tool when I am going to tend to my garden to feel the soil in my hands, to breathe in the fresh air, and to see the plants and all of their intricacies. It may sound silly, but using all five senses to be present in the moment is the only way to truly arrive at that sense of calm.
Whether you like to garden or not, I hope that this post has inspired you to either give it a try, or to give yourself permission to do the things that you love to do. Even if it is just for a few minutes, centering back to you and what makes you feel whole has ripple effects to all parts of your life, including those you love.