Seven Tips for a Budding Organic Gardener

I grew up in England where everyone seemed to be an avid gardener. I lived in Kent, which was known as the “Garden of England”, so no pressure there! It actually took over 20 years living in New York City to turn me into a gardener of sorts, when we bought a weekend place upstate. I’ve always loved flowers, so when I decided to try my hand at growing them, I never realized how addictive it would become. My little weekend getaway in the Catskill Mountains becomes a riot of color during the summer months. There are many challenges for a weekend gardener, least of which is keeping the animals from eating everything in sight. Then there’s the problem of watering, luckily I have some good friends who drop by to keep my deck planters well watered if I can’t get there.

So, what have I learned in my twelve years of planting?

1. Plant things that are right for the area. There is no point trying to grow hot weather plants if you live in a cooler climate. Sounds simple, but it’s so easy to get lured by the beauty of a particular flower.

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2. If you have no luck growing something, then after 3 or 4 times of trying, give it up. I love Echinacea and I should be able to grow it, neighbors a mile away have stunning gardens full of it. Every year for six years I bought more Echinacea only to have it eaten away to nothing. Moved on!

3. Grow organically if you can. I use organic soil in my planters and swapped the Miracle Grow for Grower’s Secret organic products.

4. Be careful where you get your plants from, many of the big chain stores use a lot of chemicals. It’s better to buy from your local garden center or farmers market and ask them about the plants they sell.

5. NEVER, EVER use Roundup – it’s a toxic poison! Instead, pull up the weeds making sure you get all the roots—it’s great exercise—or spray them with vinegar or pour boiling water on them. Or better still, eat them!

6. To deter the animals from snacking on the plants, either in my little perennial front garden, or my deck planters, I use a natural deer repellent called Deer Out. It works well all year except in winter when there’s so much snow the deer are starving. Once they break through any protective fencing or burlap cover, nothing is safe. My magnificent rhododendron was ravaged several winters in row, but with some TLC it finally came back and is blooming again this year. For all the other critters big and small, I liberally sprinkle everything with back pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes and lemon juice. It seems to work really well. Except for woodchucks… they are very persistent. An old farmers trick is to soak rags in diesel fuel and put them at the entrance to their burrows, it works!

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7. Recycle objects for planters. Old tires work well and just this past weekend saw old shoes
and sneakers as homes for some succulents…really fun!

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If I lived somewhere full time with a garden I would be growing all my own veggies too, but for now, I’m very happy with the flowers and some herbs!

Sue Taggart

As a child growing up in Kent “The Garden of England”, I thought that every family grew their own vegetables. I would help my grandfather in the garden and loved pulling potatoes and carrots out of the soil. These early experiences have given me a great appreciation for where our food comes from and a discerning palette for fresh, seasonal produce. As an avid reader, writing and storytelling is a passion that has only deepened over the years together with a growing concern for the health of our oceans and planet. We are facing serious issues with climate change and the clock is ticking…so it’s up to all of us to nurture and protect our home planet.