Sometimes when I tell people I am a gardener, they respond: “I would love to grow a garden but I don’t have a green thumb!” As an ethnobotanist and agricultural anthropologist who has studied the history of plant cultivation, I believe we all have the capacity for a green thumb.
Even if you have never cultivated soil, you are part of an ancient chain of humans who have. In many parts of the world, growing plants has been part of human culture for thousands of years! In fact, it is only relatively recently in American history that most of us are no longer involved in farming and gardening as a profession and/or a way of life. If we were all to look back in our family lineage we would find ancestors and loved ones who were adamant farmers and gardeners. In this way, I see gardening not only as a rewarding hobby but an expression of our own humanity.
If you are new to gardening and looking for help on where to begin, here are my top 10 recommendations on how to grow your thumb green in 2023!
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1. Make gardening a priority.
There is no end to the distractions in our busy lives. If you really want to be a gardener make time for it. Turn off the television and instead go to the plant nursery. Put down your phone and instead water your garden. When given the opportunity, choose to garden.
2. Think about and check on your plants daily.
Plants are living beings that need regular attention. Treat them as you would your children, pets or other loved ones.
3. Be consistent in your care.
Plants need a few essential things to thrive: water, nutrients, air, light, space and time. Although Mother Nature provides these in the wild, it is up to us to supply these necessities to our plants on a regular basis.
Pay attention to details and changes. You can learn a lot from just sitting quietly in your garden and observing what goes on. You can also learn a lot from taking a walk around your neighborhood and observing what is going on in other gardens. See if you can find the answers to your questions through your own observations.
5. Dedicate yourself to developing your knowledge.
After making your own observations, follow up with focused study. Seek information from publications, university extension services, nurseries, blogs, garden clubs, botanical gardens, and other fellow gardeners. As I mentioned above, humans have been gardening for thousands of years and so most of the questions have been answered at some point in time. Our job is to rediscover what was already known by past generations.
I have learned so much from the plants I killed. Compost happens. Failure is an opportunity to find what works for you and your garden. So give yourself the freedom to experiment with new plants and techniques.
Oftentimes new gardeners take on too many projects and quickly become overwhelmed. Instead, create a plan for what you want to eventually accomplish and break down the projects into doable steps.
Time, money and energy are three things we need the most and yet, seem to have the least. Pace yourself. Plants are patient and we should follow their lead.
Growing a garden is a form of living art. Like all creative endeavors, don’t try to emulate others or find the “right” answer. Plants break the rules all the time and so should you!
There are plenty of things to worry about in life. Your garden shouldn’t be one of them. See your time gardening as a moment for self-care, renewal, entertainment and connection to the earth!
Nate O’Meara is the Executive Director of the Arboretum at Flagstaff (www.thearb.org) and has worked as an ethnobotanist and horticulturist. This article was adapted from his blog www.omearagardens.com.