How Does Your Garden Grow? Gardening Tips for 2013


A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space—a place not just set apart but reverberant—and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.

—Michael Pollan

Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

Your backyard might not be at the level of poetry, but it should be relaxing and serene.  But how do you accomplish that?

The  “grow your own” movement has gained popularity in recent years, most notably after the recession of 2008. The dramatic increase in home vegetable gardening rivals the Victory Garden numbers during World War II. The New York Times and the National Gardening Association report a little leveling off, but still call the increase “a national surge in interest.”

We’ve talked with our local gardening experts to come up with the hottest ideas for 2013. Don’t start by tearing out everything you already have, but enhance your space with things that you love – and do so at a good price while being mindful of the environment. Also, experts warn against starting too big. Start small and you won’t be overwhelmed.



Greg Leyes (garden expert – he’s been growing things since he was 5 years old) of Ginger Valley, said growing your own vegetables has “permeated the culture” and is well established today. The increasing popularity of “staycations” and the personal satisfaction you get from watching something grow from a seed to a tomato for a dinner salad, are just a few contributing factors to the “grow your own” trend. Ginger Valley has a “Kids Gardening Club” to get kids hooked on green. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that kids who grow their own vegetables are more likely to have a healthy diet.



Roses aren’t just for your grandmother anymore. Vintage is all the rage and flowers that may have seemed stuffy in the past are coming back. Irises, for example, add color inside and out. Dig up and divide your irises every three to five years. Other oldies but goodies: Sweet Pea, Snapdragon, Hollyhock, Morning Glory, Pansy and Nasturtium.



Lemon thyme, peppermint, basil and even geraniums will make your garden smell fresh and sweet. Linda Nelson, at Nelson’s Herbs, Edwardsburg, recommends the “Scarborough Fair” mix of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. She has five personal basil plants each year that supply her with enough growth for the perfect pesto.  Nelson’s sells 12 kinds of basil, including lemon, lime, cinnamon, and anise. Try some sweet basil when baking something like pound cake bread. She also recommends a new hearty variety of lavender called Phenomenal.



Drip irrigation is gaining popularity because it applies water directly to the soil and then soaks into the ground. There’s less water waste, less weeds and fewer diseases. Some plants that are great for water conservation: Black-eyed Susan, Daylillies, Shasta Daisies and Lamb’s Ear.



Fernwood Botanical Garden & Nature Preserve has been focusing on edible plants this year. According to the Indiana DNR, you can put garlic mustard in lasagna, make cattail pollen cake, violet jelly and fried dandelions! Just be careful to identify the plants well, don’t collect where chemicals have been placed and avoid areas of pet waste.



Pots are hot and any container can be used for gardening – from an old shoe to a sterling silver teapot. But make sure your plants get proper drainage.  Another new trend – mixing flowers, vegetables, herbs and fruits. Linda Nelson, of Nelson’s Herbs, sells a “salad bowl” – a pot with lettuces and greens used for salads. One contained oriental greens of bok choy and tatsoi (a sweet-smelling Asian salad green shaped like a spoon). Keep the salad bowl out of the wind and feed it fish emulsion (be careful, though, the smell is pungent).



People are getting a little cactus crazy! Succulents (of which family cacti are a member) are easy to care for and require little maintenance, particularly attractive if you’re a reluctant gardener. Relish  the tremendous variation in size and shape and don’t be afraid to pack a lot in to achieve a full look. Make sure you don’t overwater them in the winter.



We all know about bringing the outdoors in, but what about bringing the indoors out? Accessories are hot, including outdoor wall clocks, brightly-colored water resistant pillows, unusual lighting, natural-looking and inexpensive outdoor rugs, and heavy-duty, weather-friendly comfy furniture. Don’t forget your backyard home sound system and crank up the music!



Technology touches every other part of our life, so why not gardening? Students are experimenting with drone-type mechanisms that sense an intruder and buzz around your garden keeping it free from harm. Some products on the market: Garden Defense Electronic Owl, Easy Garden, $40, a sensor detects an intruder and the owl turns his head, hoots and gives the critter a scary, scary look; Rapitest, $30, a handy piece of equipment that measures moisture and pH factors, and VegiBee, $29.99, a pollination device so you don’t have to depend on Mother Nature.



You’d have to be living on another planet not to know about the interest in organic anything, particularly among those 30 and younger. Some manifestations of this trend include elimination of pesticides, shopping local, and a general emphasis on being healthy and eating healthy. Organic fertilizer, mulch and compost is available. Did you know that putting half-full containers of beer into the ground in shady areas will help control snails and slugs? And, yes, there is organic beer!