Lessons Learned from Not Planning My Planting

When we try something new in life OR in our garden and what we’d envisioned doesn’t happen, we might come to the conclusion that we weren’t cut out for what we’d set out to do or that we don’t have what it takes to be a successful gardener. Most of the lessons I’ve learned in the years I’ve been gardening is that if I make a mistake or something I’d planned doesn’t work out, what I gained was stepping outside my comfort zone and trying new things — which means while I’m growing my garden, I’m growing myself and my capacity.

One of the things I love about gardening are all the metaphors, symbolism, and lessons that are part of planting, tending, growing, and harvesting a garden. Caring for my garden has been one of my greatest teachers in my life. 

In life and in gardening, trial and error — and then
trying again — is everything.

~Toni Gattone

When we’re willing to take a risk, be bold, and try something new, we also open up the opportunity for others to learn with us and from us. It is in this spirit that I offer some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in caring for my garden.

Start Small to Keep it Manageable  

Of all the lessons learned, the biggest mistake I’ve made (and most gardeners make) is buying a bunch of plants before doing the homework and the planning for the planting. This year, be kind to yourself (and your wallet) by identifying what plants you want and doing the research so you know if they’ll thrive in the location you intend to plant them, before you shop.  This will save time, your precious energy, and most definitely money.

Take good care of yourself by starting small to keep it manageable by doing the following:

  • Decide where you’re going to plant your garden and determine the square footage you have to work with.
  • Put together a list of what you would enjoy eating from your own garden, that will contribute to your health and well-being.
  • Look up how big each plant will get during the season, so you will know how much space each plant needs, and how many plants to buy.

This year I’m determined to avoid making the mistake I’ve made in years past of over-buying by using my garden journal to help me plan better than I’ve done before. I even drew all my raised beds, containers, and in-ground beds on graph paper and I recorded the square footage so I buy just what my garden can accommodate and no more! 

[SAGE WISDOM FROM THE GARDEN] When embarking on a new creative endeavor, it’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment, and buy more than what you need, which can lead to a bigger undertaking, and greater time and financial investment. By starting small, you can maximize your enjoyment, conserve energy, and increase your satisfaction.

Seeds or Starts, That is The Question

I’m embarrassed to admit that in the past I’ve bought more seed packs than my entire neighborhood could plant in any one growing season. Check the planting instructions on the package so you can be realistic about what you have room for.

Are you still wondering if you will plant by seed or starts? Here’s a couple of guidelines that have helped me in decide which way to go — which can change year-to-year:  

  1. Growing from seeds is the most inexpensive way to plant and they offer the greatest variety to choose from. Start seeds indoors in domed plant trays with a heating mat and a thermostat. Or wait for the soil to warm up and plant them directly outdoors. There is a real joy that comes from seeing them germinate. 
  2. I always used to plant from starts because I thought I was too impatient to wait for seeds. (Thankfully, that’s changed!) Growing from “starts” in 4” pots or 6 packs that you purchase at the nursery, is definitely the more expensive way to go, but it’s also the easiest, most convenient, and the fastest way to get “started.”

[SAGE WISDOM FROM THE GARDEN] In this day and age, there’s almost always a shortcut for just about anything we do. Sure shortcuts save time and sometimes effort, but consider the joy and satisfaction you give up in not making something from scratch, growing something from seed, or starting from the beginning and experiencing something come alive and into form.

Impulse versus Intention

I am totally guilty of stopping by my favorite nursery and buying the darling plant that appealed to me on whim, only to get home and think “uh-oh” because while I thought it might be the right plant in the moment, I didn’t have the right place for it. Lesson learned! Don’t buy on impulse. Instead, ask yourself:

  • What nutritious food am I excited to grow that will also feed and fuel my body? 
  • Where is the best location for my kitchen garden?
  • What areas in my garden get the most sun? 
  • How can I incorporate containers, raised beds, and vertical gardens to save energy and be easy on my body?

[SAGE WISDOM FROM THE GARDEN]  Let’s face it, it can be fun being impulsive on occasion, but there is a piece of mind that comes when we’re intentional and make choices that support our longer term goals.

Planning is the Secret Ingredient in Gardening

After getting through 2020, I think most of us are into saving ourselves from unnecessary stress, right? When it comes to your garden, one way to alleviate stress is to not wait until the last minute to shop for seeds or starts, like I did last year. Everybody and their uncle wanted to grow their own food when food distribution was interrupted due to Covid. I was sorely disappointed when I found the seed racks were bare, trusted seed companies were sold out, and the starts at nurseries were sadly picked over. Heads up gardeners … growers and seed companies are expecting the same rush and sell-out this year, so plan ahead!


Botanical Interests, based out of Colorado is one of my favorite seed companies.

I love to hear the stories they tell behind their products, like the one that Judy, the owner, tells about how her Mom loved to plant big bright yellow marigolds around her patio. 

That childhood memory brought Judy to name this new variety of marigolds after her Mom. Such a sweet story, I had to buy it.

[SAGE WISDOM FROM THE GARDEN]  Do you want to reduce your stress, increase your follow-through, and complete more of what you set out to do?  Easy-peasy.  Step #1 Create a plan.  Step #2 Write it down.  You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you’ll be, how you’ll minimize your stress by working from a thoughtful plan that you take the time to write down, and how you’ll complete more of what you want to do.

Diversified and Cozy Planting

Plan to plant intensively. What does that mean you may be wondering??? It took me a long time to realize that the directions on plant labels and seed packets describe how to sow seeds or plant in multiples of a plant for row planting in the ground.

One year, I didn’t understand why I had pest and disease issues, and how my veggie garden was nearly decimated. It caused me a great deal of aggravation and I wished I’d known then about ‘cozy’ planting and how to diversify what I planted. Now, I know that by diversifying my plants and planting them closer together, I greatly improve my production and harvest.

[SAGE WISDOM FROM THE GARDEN]  Did you know that ‘diversifying’ is the first cousin of ‘variety is the spice of life’, and that it’s also an effective way to get more of what you want and need in your life.  Having a diverse interests, groups of friends, foods you enjoy, and even the ways you move through your day can add perspective, richness, beauty, and vibrancy.      

Plant and Plant — and Then Plant Some More

Plan to do succession planting. I never used to do this and what a mistake that was because I was always searching for the next best lettuce. Last year when inventory levels were low, I had to settle for less than exciting varieties. Well, guess what? We’ve got enough on our plates to have to worry who is going to have  a particular kind of lettuce that you love in stock. So, here’s the trick — three to four weeks after you’ve planted your first lettuce plants, plant another crop. That way you will have months of your favorite lettuces for crisp nutritious salads. Three of my soon-to-be favorites that germinated within days are: Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce, New Red Fire Leaf Lettuce, and Red Sales Leaf Lettuce.

[SAGE WISDOM FROM THE GARDEN]  We create a rich and rewarding life by having a daily practice of sewing the seeds of vitality, health, wellbeing, connection, and gratitude.  The key words in that sentence are “daily practice”.  Not all the seeds we plant in our lives will grow and even the ones that sprout don’t alway mature, which is why we plant new seeds each day, so that we create a lush, vibrant life. 

Bring on the Color

Does your veggie garden ever scream for color? Unless I’m growing ‘Bright Lights Swiss Chard’, my kitchen garden tends to be pretty one dimensional, with various shades of green. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing like seeing a beautiful, vibrant green garden growing in my yard, but over the years I like to add color to my garden, which also means color to my salad too.

One of my favorite parts of planning and planting my garden each year is deciding on which edibles plants — like violas, calendula, nasturtium, or even ornamental cabbages that I’ll plant between my broccoli and my beets, to add pops of color and visual interest.

Now when I walk by my garden, I not only see life, vibrancy, and vitality growing in all the green plants, I also see beauty, joy, and variety in the color that grows throughout the year.

[SAGE WISDOM FROM THE GARDEN] Color has the power to influence our mood and brighten outlook. Did you know that different colors can spark a variety of positive emotions and experiences ranging from inspiration and joy to comfort and calmness? There is an entire area of study called Color Psychology and a therapeutic modality called Art Therapy.  If you’d like to learn more about how specific colors can impact and benefit you, check out this post on ArtTherapyBlog.com.

Stock-up and Save

Watch for sales to save money and time by purchasing the supplies you’re going to need before you start planting your garden. I never think I’m going to need as much organic potting soil as I end up using, so I’m forever running back to the nursery to buy more. Besides interrupting my momentum when I’m planting, I waste time going back for more, and may even end up paying more than if I’d planned ahead and stocked up.

Here are some of my favorite items to have on hand and can be purchased when they’re on sale:

  • Organic potting soil. If you’re growing food, it has to be organic and fast draining.
  • Compost to mix with the potting soil. I like mushroom compost but there’s a variety to choose from.
  • Mulch to retain water and keep the weeds out of your garden. Be sure to avoid creating volcanoes of mulch by keeping the mulch away from the plant stem.
  • A planting medium, like E.B. Stone’s Sure Start 4.6.2. will stimulate root growth. I use Sure Start whenever I plant anything in my garden. 
  • Plant labels so you know what you’ve planted and don’t inadvertently weed out new growth. Been there; done that.
  • If you’re bothered by birds, squirrels, or other pests, buy bird netting so you don’t lose plants the day after you’ve planted them. I’ve done that too many times to count. There’s a new bird netting from Gardeners Supply that is much easier to work with than the plastic netting on the market. 

[SAGE WISDOM FROM THE GARDEN] One way to get great prices on items that can be purchased in advance is to check with your local stores about when they typically run sales on the items you use most and then add it to your calendar. That way, if your local nursery has a pre-Spring planting sale, you won’t miss out. We don’t always have the luxury of being able to plan ahead and shop for the best prices and deals, but having a calendar reminder might help when we do have time to shop and save. Bonus tip: this strategy works with lots of things we use around our home.

There have been so many lessons I’ve learned over the years in caring for my garden. I sure hope you will benefit from my mistakes and create a garden that you will enjoy tending to, will provide you with a life-enhancing outlet for creativity, and will yield a bountiful harvest that will contribute to your health and wellbeing.

Happy planning, shopping and saving!

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Not Planning My Planting”

  1. This is a beautifully written post Toni, with so much valuable information for gardeners as they embark on creating their outdoor space. As I age, I have put more emphasis on creating gardens which are not only functional, but supply interest 12-months a year with little maintenance, not only for myself but for my clients as well. I am happy to have found your website and will look forward to seeing more!


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