Become a gardener

As a gardener I’m often asked, “How do I start a garden?” The following resources and suggestions will help you start and the rewards you reap will keep you gardening.

The library: Search for books on your topic, if it’s worthy add it to your reference library. I recommend The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by DiSabato-Aust. It discusses the pruning and maintenance needs of many perennial species, a month-by-month planting and maintenance schedule, and lists of plants for specific conditions.

Growing Perennials in Cold Climates by Heger, Lonnee, and Whitman includes resources for selecting, siting, planting and maintaining perennials for northern climates.

Northern Gardener is a magazine for gardening in USDA Hardiness Zones 3, 4, and 5. The library has it and it’s available to buy. The columns and feature articles cover all areas of gardening and skill levels. Useful to learn about new publications, websites, local courses and garden tours.

Dig in but start small: Focus on one thing and stick with it for a season. If you want to grow vegetables, start a small bed and plant basic vegetables. If you want new flower beds but have existing beds, first work on reviving what you have to learn about existing plants, their traits and your site.

Visit and buy from a locally-owned nursery: Explain your skill level and visit during off hours for personalized attention.

Hire a garden coach: Some garden maintenance businesses offer this one-on-one service. Generally they charge by the hour and should tailor the session(s) to your interest and skill level.

Social media: Use it and do additional research. When there is a plant, pest or symptom I can’t identify I seek input from various Facebook sites. I take those answers and confirm it with a book or online search. Websites that end in .org or .edu are generally research- based and reliable.

Pinterest, Instagram, etc. are good resources for collecting ideas. However there can be questionable advice and unrealistic expectations.

Visit gardens: Attend garden tours and visit local parks with gardens. Silverwood Park, a Three Rivers District Park, has good examples of native plant beds. The University of MN – St. Paul Campus has well-labeled display and trial gardens. The University of MN Landscape Arboretum has it all. The plant collections are a highlight. Say you want a hydrangea but you don’t know what type, visit mid-to-late summer and determine which one fits your needs.

Take classes: We have many metro-area resources. Hennepin County Extension offers many courses (more on this below). There are organizations with specific missions and plant societies that offer classes geared towards that subject. For example Wild Ones Twin Cities promotes environmentally-sound landscaping practices and hosts clinics and tours. Watershed Districts and similar organizations are concerned with the quality of our water. Courses focus on reducing runoff and low-input gardening. The Tree Trust improves community environments by investing in people and educating the public on the planting and care of trees. Northside neighborhood organizations and businesses offer garden-based courses focused on growing food, planting for pollinators, personal gardening and neighborhood beautification.

University of Minnesota Extension: Hennepin County Master Gardener volunteers provide research-based horticultural information and educational activities. Visit “Ask a Master Gardener” booths at the Camden Farmer’s Market and many other markets and garden centers. The Yard & Garden Line is always available to leave a message and someone will get back to you 612-301-7590. Free classes are held at Hennepin County Libraries and other locations. Check the events section – – for specific information.

And perhaps the best gardening tool…

Neighborhood networks: Connect with neighbors who have gardens you admire and ask questions. Most gardeners love to talk gardening and like to share their experiences.

There are a good number of community gardens, clubs and loosely-organized garden groups on the Northside. They all want and need volunteers. Work alongside others who have experience; this is where I’ve learned the most and perhaps is the best way to get hands-on experience. Search for them on Facebook, in local newspapers or by asking neighbors.

Some of our neighborhood organizations have environmental or garden-based committees. Check with your neighborhood office (see pages 8 and 9) if there is one and attend a meeting. If there isn’t one, visit one in another neighborhood and learn how to start one for your own neighborhood.

Regardless of how you start – gardening is good for the body, mind and neighborhood.

By Amy Chapman, U of M Extension Master Gardener