In my last post, I shared a question from Jennifer, who said that she wants to support pollinators, but wasn’t sure how to get started. That post centered on the needs of the pollinators. This post is focused on the needs of the gardener and how to fuse the two.
Jennifer’s smart because she recognizes that she’s a novice and that she needs a garden that’s low-maintenance.
When I started gardening, I was way too optimistic about myself, imagining that I was going to sail through the maintenance aspect with the ease of a sailboat propelled by the wind. Yeah. That didn’t happen.
I was also way too quick on the trigger with my credit card back in the day.
The fact is, it’s wise to recognize your limitations. Once you do, you can start to find ways to work with or around them. Denial isn’t actually a very happy place to live.
It’s also wise to respect your budget. It’s wonderful to garden for a greater good and it’s sensible to want that garden to enhance your life. Overstretching financially isn’t going to do that.
Find the Middle Ground
So it’s about striking a balance.
One really astute way to do that is by envisioning the look you ultimately want to achieve and then taking it in right-sized chunks, year by year.
You’re the one who gets to look at your individual constellation of factors – time, skill, finances, and so forth – and decide what “right-sized” is.
You may want to turn your whole front yard into a beautiful pollinator garden, buzzing with life. I applaud that!
But if you’re doing all the work yourself and your time and budget are limited, it’s best to take it a little at a time. If pressed, I’d suggest a 10-foot x 12-foot plot as an absolute maximum for someone just starting out.
Here are some other factors to consider:
- Investing time and effort in site preparation is always a sound investment. If you’re dealing with a spot where a lot of weeds are growing, take the time to remove them – thoroughly. Same with lawn grass. Enriching the soil with organic matter is almost always beneficial. None of this is ‘sexy’ work, nor is it necessarily easy, but it pays big dividends for years to come.
- Choose plants that fit your goals, your specific growing conditions, and are native to your ecoregion. More on that here. Truly, if you want a site that’s low-maintenance, ‘right plant, right place’ needs to become your mantra. Native to your ecoregion is an automatic slam-dunk for benefiting indigenous wildlife.
Consider Kit Gardens
I have an artist friend who was a public school art teacher before she made an international splash as a jewelry designer. Over lunch one day, she shared that she used to suggest paint-by-number kits to parents as a great way for students to begin learning about color and shading.
I think kit gardens serve a similar purpose. If you really become enthusiastic about gardening, they’re not going to satisfy you forever, but they’re a great way to get started.
Starting from seed stretches your gardening dollar, but you need to be longer on patience. The Xerces Society offers region-specific seed mixes, which is one great option to consider. You can see those specific to the mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and Pennsylvania here.
Alternatively, if you have a little more money and want to see flowers sooner, you can start with potted plugs, which are just small, young plants. Keep in mind that even then, your plants are going to spend their first season doing a lot of foundational work that you can’t see – growing their roots.
Therefore, don’t expect a mature look instantly. Year two will be more filled out; by year three, you’ll have the full, abundant look of a mature garden.
The Native Plant Trust (formerly New England Wild Flower Society) makes it easy with kits specific to growing conditions.
The most expensive DIY option – but with the quickest results – is larger potted plants, perennials in quart- to gallon-sized containers. If you’d rather not do a lot of research, use the species included in the kits mentioned above.
Just be sure to match plant to site conditions – that’s super-important for minimal maintenance.
And if you go with this last option, do your homework as described in my preceding post. Do not purchase plants from sources that use neonicotinoids or “neo nics” if you want to help pollinators.
If You Want More Help
Finally, if time is more of an issue for you than budget is and you’d rather shorten or bypass the learning curve, lots of help is available. You can search for a landscape designer in your area who specializes in pollinator or habitat gardens.
And I’m happy to help where I can, too, so if you’re in the Northeastern Coastal Zone (where I garden), don’t hesitate to be in touch via comments or email.
Here’s wishing you happy gardening, Jennifer!
As always, before I close, I’d really love to hear from you, the reader! If you’re willing to share:
What do you consider your biggest obstacle to getting started in the garden?