Resources for becoming a more intuitive gardener?
June 10, 2015 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Over many years of learning how to cook, I developed from slavishly following recipes (and often screwing up anyway) to being able to improvise with a decent success rate. Now I'm learning how to garden, and would like to make a similar transition. If you have done this, what helped?

I realize experience is the best teacher, and I don't expect to become an expert right away. To give an idea of what I'm looking for: in the realm of cooking, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is a resource that helped me make sense of all the disordered input experience was trying to give me.

Gardening context: I'm in Northern California, growing things in containers (from small pots on up to a 16 sq. ft. box). I'm equally interested in growing plants for their attractiveness and for food. I want to increase my botanical knowledge, but am also interested in the artistic aspects of garden design -- I'd say "landscaping" but that doesn't seem like the right word for a collection of containers.
posted by aws17576 to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Read up on companion planting.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:38 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Sunset Western Garden Book is my bible ( sorry...on mobile so I can't link.

Other than that:
- always use rooting hormone when transplanting
- choose good specimens. Nursery staff is usually good at helping with that
- generally buy small starts to see if they'll like a spot. If they don't, move em.
- I personally don't rely on a lot of annuals, mostly because I'm lazy.
- ask lots of questions at the nursery. If you go. At times when you hey aren't swamped, they're generally really helpful
posted by Gusaroo at 6:02 PM on June 10, 2015

The Master Gardener program in your area is probably excellent - it's a great way to develop a learning network, and find local tips and resources.
posted by mmiddle at 6:57 PM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

The best advice I've heard is pay attention. Go and look at your plants often. Notice when things have changed. Don't procrastinate about fixing problems.
posted by kjs4 at 7:24 PM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

I am a semi-terrible gardener, but I turned a small dead patch of ground into some plants I didn't have to maintain by walking around my neighbourhood, and observing what plants did well.
In several cases, I asked for or took cuttings - already tried and tested for my soil and climate. :)
posted by Elysum at 2:31 AM on June 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you intend to care for trees, shrubs or other woody plants then read about good pruning techniques. I won't suggest a particular book because the one I started with is out of print and contained some dated recommendations, but I'm sure you can turn up something well-reviewed on Amazon. There are right times of year to do it, ways of quickly deciding what to remove and what to leave, rules of thumb for how much to remove, and correct places to cut. As with any creative practice, it really helps to understand the constraints.
posted by jon1270 at 3:04 AM on June 11, 2015

For ornamentals, look at foliage as well as flowers. Some of my favorite plants have fleeting, insignificant or no flowers but gorgeous (and lasting) texture, color, or leaf shape, like Black Lace elderberrry, plume poppy, and Powis Castle artmesia. In containers, the formula is thriller (upright), filler (spreading/mounding), and spiller (trailing), but pots of a single kind of plant can be effective too, and then you can move the pots around until you have a composition you like. Just as in cooking, you will discover how to combine plants, like tastes, that contrast with or complement each other. Just as in cooking, you will find your go-to plants, like dishes, are the ones you like that also do well for you.

Be both more tolerant of volunteers and more ruthless about them: I've got plants that are welcome to pop up wherever they want because they're easy to pull out (Tanacetum niveum), and plants that I eradicate on sight because they stopped behaving well and took over the garden (Achillea filipendulina Parker).
posted by caryatid at 11:17 AM on June 11, 2015

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