By Monica O’Malley-Tavares
It’s garden planning time here in New England! Yes, even as we tunnel through feet of snow and scowl at the forecasts, it’s time to get down to business. If you’re anything like me, an avid gardener, whose heart was made to gather a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, to cut spikes of pastel hued Gladiolus, and to tuck seeds into warm earth, then you have been ready since you covered your raised beds with freshly mulched leaves and said “night night”.
That was the day I started making mental notes and also took out my well-loved gardener’s journal to jot a few thoughts before they slipped from my mind amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Thanksgiving’s jewel toned backdrop and extra dollop of sage gravy swiftly gave way to Christmas, a time of gifting small treasures of dried rose petals and preserved Roma tomatoes. The New Year rang in effortlessly, with mild weather turning harsh and relentless. By the time Valentine’s Day arrived, this gardener was not feeling the love, at least not for Mother Nature.
But we CAN be productive in between rounds of shoveling and cleaning off the car. And quite honestly, planning for my gardens has kept me out of a snow coma, and usually out of the cookie jar too, usually.
I have a certain routine I go through when planning ahead for the seasons in the garden. It’s not fool proof, and it’s not for everyone. But here’s what works for me:
Step 1: Think about your space.
My plan is based on what I know I have space for. Actually, I tend to be an “over planter”, crowding things a bit closer than recommended on seed packages. I have twelve 12 x 4 raised beds for vegetables, and a large 8 x 8 square for herbs. So I think about that space and typically will try to plant 2 or 3 different crops in the same bed. Or if planting something like tomatoes (which I plant an abundance of) I will plant the entire bed with tomatoes, and perhaps something like marigolds along the ends to ward off pests and add a splash of color.
Don’t forget to plan your flower gardens as well! I plant zinnias along the entrance to the vegetable garden, and perennials along the front border. I also have a cut flower garden with lavender, glads, peonies and dahlias. There’s always a bit of space here to try something new.
At this point, get an approximate idea of your space in order to plan the use of your space more accurately, which makes seed and plant buying easier.
Step 2: Choose Seeds and Plants
This is such a fun part of planning a garden. For years I have been getting loads of seed catalogs. But if you have never had a garden, ask a friend to borrow their catalogs, or look online. There are hundreds of reputable seed sellers. You can also try your local library. Many libraries have special gardening sections set up with helpful gardening books and seed/plant catalogs.
I tend to be loyal to certain companies. I buy all or most of my vegetable, herb and flower seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Owners Jere and Emilee Gettle have a passion for seed gathering. Their approach to “collecting, testing and selling only non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated, and non-patented” seeds, appeals to me. Another favorite is Renee’s Garden. Renee Shepherd, like the Gettles, travels the world to find the best non-treated, non-genetically engineered seeds. She also offers organic varieties. There are many seed companies out there. Decide what’s important to you. I will not buy from companies that even buy a portion of their seed from Seminis/Monsanto, but this is a personal preference.
Because my garden is grown for personal use, I buy what my family enjoyed the previous season(s), and I choose some new seeds to try that appear interesting.
Some of my go to favorites from Baker Creek:
Blue Lake Bush Bean
Boston Pickling Cucumber
Dragon’s Egg Cucumber
Lemon Cuke Cucumber
White Scallop Squash
Crookneck Golden Summer Squash
Mongogo Du Guatemal Squash
Chinese Miniature White Squash
Connecticut Field Pumpkin
Big Boston Lettuce
Crimson Giant Radishes
Five Color Silverbeet Chard
Chadwick Cherry Tomato
Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry Tomato
Dr. Wyche’s Yellow Tomato
Bread and Salt Tomato
Amish Paste Tomato
I also enjoy their flower seeds, particularly:
Bush Morning Glory
Giant Perfection Mix Asters
Blue Boy Bachelor’s Button
Dwarf Jewel-Mix Nasturtium.
Zinnias: I have planted nearly every variety they offer, and have had tremendous success with all.
This year I will be trying Renee’s Garden’s Certified Organic Seed Potatoes in the Rose Gold and Yukon Gold varieties, and a few herbs, such as Italian Genovese Basil and Italian Large Leaf Parsley. I also look forward to trying a few varieties of their flowers, such as Cosmos or Morning Glory.
I also like to pick up annuals and organic herbs at neighborhood garden shops, (not the big box stores). It’s so important to show support for local businesses, as they are the heart of our communities.
Step 3: Stick to a Budget
It’s VERY easy to get carried away with seed choices. Setting a garden budget for the season allows you to plan ahead. Remember the seeds are only the beginning. You will need pots and planting medium. You may need to top off your garden’s organic soil or purchase amendments such as compost or peat, and treatments such as fish emulsion. You will need garden stakes and possibly labels, hoses, watering cans, etc…You may choose to supplement with live plants. (I still opt for organic when shopping local). Make a rough budget for all parts of the gardening season, but allow yourself flexibility. This should be fun!
It’s helpful to start a Garden Journal for the season in a 3-ring binder or an old notebook. I like to keep my budget, seed order, garden map, and any related receipts along with detailed notes on each plant’s germination, growth, and harvest. I also include a daily garden tally once I start picking. (And if you are artistic, it’s a great place to sketch your garden!)
Enjoy planning for your garden. It’s a thought-provoking process. Careful planning now will allow you to be more prepared once you are actively working towards your goal! But remember, part of the joy of gardening is also allowing yourself to explore, to be spontaneous, to revel in your successes and to learn from your mistakes.
Please, share your favorite go to flowers, herbs, and vegetables in the comments below! Stay tuned for Part 2, “Planting Seeds”.
Monica O’Malley-Tavares is a mom, math and science teacher, lifelong gardener, garden writer, and photographer. She spends her free time plotting and planning for the following year’s vegetable and flower gardens on the 2 acres she and her husband call Prince Snow Farm. No matter what the season, you’ll find her outside in her green Muck boots, camera slung around her neck and a small journal for notes and observation nearby, or you’ll find her in the kitchen working on a seasonal recipe. She lives on the south coast with her husband Kevin, also an educator, and 2 children.