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New gardener in New England

Hi, I've recently moved and I have the opportunity to plant a good size garden, at least 500 square feet available. I have very little gardening experience and don't know where to start. Can anyone recommend a good book, magazine or web site for starting a new garden from scratch? I'm in Rhode Island and would especially like to know what to plant when for my area. Thanks for any tips.

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  1. I like the Daves Garden site. (http://davesgarden.com
    )It has a NorthEast Gardening board with dozens of knowledgeable contributors happy to help newcomers, and one of the best plant references and supplier evaluations available anywhere.

    You can browse it for free and decide whether you want to member and post questions.

    1. I found Barbara Damrosch's The Garden Primer of immense help when I started gardening. I haven't read the revised second edition, but I'm sure it is no less helpful than the first edition:


      I also found Organic Gardening magazine a great help:

      Here are some specific Rhode Island links. If you google "gardening in Rhode Island" you will find many more resources:

      Good luck!

      1. Try your local County Extension Office for planting information. They can also help you with contacting your area Master Gardener Volunteers, who answer exactly your type of questions.

        1. Our local Agway is offering some seminars but I also enjoy ones given by County Extension. You might find used copies of Crockett's Victory Garden at a used bookstore. This used to be a tv garden show filmed in Boston. The book is divided by months, explaining what to do each month. If you mean vegetables (and some flowers), the original book is great. If you mean flowers, I think there's a Crockett's Flower Garden. I love going over the chore list each week.

          Gardenweb.com has a New England thread you might find very useful for flower gardening including news about plant swaps and nursery recommendations. There are other threads about specific topics such as vegetables or shrubs but you have to pay attention to the zones where posters live.

          If you're talking vegetables, I would also see Johnny's Selected Seeds' website and sign up for their emails and facebook. You will find catalogs to offer a greater variety of seeds than a local store. If you want a really good selection of tomato plants, you might find them at the farmers market or word of mouth. I get mine from a local, backyard grower who puts a single ad in the NH Farmers Weekly Bulletin each year and I can buy individual plants. This morning I found another list from a local grower who sells at farmers markets. They are taking plant orders now. Check listings for vendors at farmers markets near you to see if there are any links or info about plants. I'll buy my annuals at the farm and feed store but their selection of tomatoes and peppers is pretty limited. Best wishes for a great season if spring ever gets here.

          1. I would start with thinking about what you like to eat :). Plan to start small this year, and as you go through the seasons pay attention to the amount of light in different areas of your yard, what parts are wet, what parts are dry, etc. plant things that you like and see if they grow for you. (I love zucchini, but we are at ground zero for powdery mildew and I've given up on trying to grow it!)

            Look at your neighbors yards to see what grows well. But realize that your microclimate may be different. My neighbor across the street gets morning sun in her south-facing front yard, and her bulbs and plants bloom a week or two before ours.

            There's a book, I think it's called the New England Garden Guide that has specific recommendations for our area (I'm north of Boston).

            Also, star a compost pile/bin ASAP. I made a cheap one out of a 30-gal plastic trash can: use a large drill bit to make holes all around the sides, and then cut out the bottom with a reciprocating saw. Turn the can upside down and put the lid over the cut-out bottom, weighted down with a brick. Fill it with your veggie scraps, used coffe grounds, and shredded newspapers.

            Have fun!

            1. The book that finally got me going was Mini Farming, Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett Markham. It tells you every single thing you need to know, the hard way AND the easy way. Even goes into fruit trees, preserving and raising chickens. It covers it all, in simple English.

              1. Any basic gardening book(s) will give you plenty of good info & ideas. Hit up your local library & bring home a bunch.

                I've been gardening (vegetables, herbs, flowers, etc., etc.) since I was a little sprout - grew up in a gardening/farming family. What real basics have I learned?

                START SMALL!!! Forget about the fact that you have 500 square feet at your disposal. You'll be absolutely amazed at how much time & effort goes into caring for even a small plot. There's soil improvement, planting, weeding, mulching, watering, harvesting, etc., etc. Nothing is sadder than a potentially fabulous hobby getting nipped in the bud by taking on too much too soon & deciding that it's just too much work. It doesn't have to be, so don't set yourself up for failure or discouragement.

                GROW WHAT YOU LIKE TO EAT (or flowers you like to look at)!!! Seed racks & catalogs are like candy stores. So many choices, so little time, so little room. Or so it seems. Sit down & think about what you enjoy most & buy most from the supermarket &/or farmers markets. Then investigate what those plants will need in your garden. Nothing wrong with picking a new item or two that look interesting, but there's also nothing more boring than ending with 32,000 summer squash that no one is interested in eating.

                MAKE A COMMITMENT!! Doesn't have to be engraved in steel or anything like that, but try to make a commitment to visit your garden once a day - even if nothing really needs doing - just to check on things. Pull a stray weed, pick off an insect pest (after you can tell bad bugs from good ones - lol!).

                ENJOY IT!! Nothing is nicer than a side table & chair or two out by the garden to sit at & enjoy a cup of coffee/tea or glass of wine at some point during the day/evening and just enjoy the sight of the fruit of your labors.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Bacardi1

                  Great advice, Bacardi. I like to go out in the early morning to check for bad bugs/eggs and pull a weed or two. Since we do most of our outside work on weekends and put in several hours each day, I look forward to my husband declaring it is time for a tea break. We sit in the shade of a maple and enjoy the view.

                2. Lots of good advice!

                  If anything, I might start with a couple of containers that when filled with a soil mix and water, you can still move around. And I'd start with small reasonably hardy type plants. If you're a foodie, maybe start with a couple of herbs: basil, thyme and sage, for instance. Or relatively quick greens: lettuce, spinach and swiss chard. That way you can figure out where the sun is each day, what critters (cats, birds, deer, etc.) might want to eat your garden and other aspects of your microclimate. Windy on one side of the house? Move the planter if necessary and so on. Maybe your thought is a space that has great sun in the spring but is pretty shaded by August as the sun angle lowers along with the fully leafed out trees.

                  Each space really does come with differences and taking the time to learn yours will pay off.

                  1. http://microcosmpublishing.com/catalo... I used this book a lot for my first garden. It was super useful! Also talking to your local extension office can let you know which zone you are in and test the soil for you.

                    1. Try tomatoes. They are foolproof! I planted, hardly ever watered, weeded once a month and got more than I and my extended family could ever eat! :-)

                      1. Hi Idyllwild,

                        When I was a novice gardener, I relied heavily on advice from my local greenhouse. Lots of people....both the employees and customers I met...were eager to share helpful advice, and to offer "home remedies" (for example, an epsom salts solution saved my young dogwood tree).

                        The good thing about human contact is that they can "show" you, and not just tell you, what to do.

                        I live in Northern Mass, and the area's maple and pine trees love the acidic soil. Fortunately, so do blueberries, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and all sorts of lovely veggies.

                        I do recommend trying tomatoes...plum tomatoes have taken off for me, but other varieties do well too (cherry, beefsteak, etc). Radishes are VERY easy to grow and have a quick germination time (keep them watered...they get bitter in droughts).

                        Also...and this could be complete folklore...my dad always told me to plant zucchini, marigolds, and chive on the perimeter of the garden to keep animals away. The theory was that the "prickly" zucchini stems, and the odor of the chives/marigolds would deter wascally wabbits.

                        Have fun!

                        1. My response is specific to growing vegetables. If you're planning to grow mostly flowers or other types of ornamental foliage, this probably won't apply.

                          Others have mentioned good sources for growing in RI (I live in MA, where the climate is pretty much the same) so I won't comment on that. But my #1 piece of advice to ANYONE starting a garden is to wait a year before building a permanent garden plot. Until then, grow in containers during your first year (or skip it altogether until year #2.)


                          Because unless you're in an area where there aren't many trees, you won't know where the sunniest part of your yard is until you've had the chance to observe the sun's path for a whole growing season.

                          For this reason, I recommend that a first year garden be done in planters or small pots - nothing too ambitious. All the while, take note of what part of your yard gets the most sunlight - you want to have a garden plot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun, and preferably 8 hours or more, during peak growing season (late June through early September.) In urban and suburban communities that can be difficult, as your neighbors' houses, trees, fences, etc. can all create shade where you don't want it. It could be that the spot you think would be best for your garden isn't as ideal as you think.

                          If you don't get as much direct sun as you'd like, that tells you what kind of garden to make: perhaps you'll end up growing shade-tolerant veggies only, like spinach, kale, lettuce, certain root veggies, etc.

                          Then in Year 2, you actually commit to the garden and till the soil, build raised beds, etc. and have at it.

                          I also recommend that you start vegetables from seed as much as possible. Direct sowing (putting seeds right into your garden) is much easier and less energy consuming than starting indoors with heat mats and grow lights. Certain veggies, like eggplant, cucumbers, and tomatoes, need to be started indoors if you're growing in New England, but most other veggies and herbs can be planted right in the ground. For this reason most home gardeners buy seedlings of hot-weather vegetables from their local garden center.

                          (and if you do buy seedlings from a garden center, go with a local business as opposed to a national chain. It supports your local economy and you're less likely to get diseased plants that traveled hundreds -- or thousands -- of miles from potentially blight or disease-infected greenhouses.)