Spring is here and, after spending a great deal of time indoors over the past few months, it’s the perfect time to (safely) get outside, unplug from technology, and interact with the earth. And what better way to do this than by gardening? Whether you live in an apartment with limited outdoor access or have a spacious yard to work in, there are plenty of options that allow you to grow your own food and reap the mental and physical health benefits of gardening.
If you’ve never gardened before, you may think that you simply don’t have a “green thumb” and your efforts will be fruitless. But Chris Cunningham of the Landscape and Construction Services division at Cedar Grove says you shouldn’t let this deter or intimidate you. “You don’t necessarily need to have a ‘green thumb,’ ” he says. Just start by reading the directions on seed packets and you’ll likely surprise yourself with what you can grow.
When you’re ready to get planting, the first thing to take into account is how much space you have for a garden so you can plan accordingly.
Small spaces (Urban gardens, balconies, rooftops)
For gardeners with limited space, Cunningham recommends buying pots that you usually use for flowers. Instead of flowers, put potting soil or topsoil in the pots and use them to plant your vegetables. If you don’t have potting or topsoil on hand, you can order online from Cedar Grove and receive your soil through contactless delivery.
“Planting tomatoes, carrots, herbs, or anything that can thrive in one of those small pots is perfect for a patio or anybody living in an apartment or condo,” says Cunningham.
Another way to maximize limited space is vertical gardening. Cunningham recommends purchasing items that can hang from the roof of a balcony. Then put in the potting soil and you can grow tomatoes or cucumbers that hang down.
Trellising is also an option. “If you have limited space and want to grow peas or beans, get a planter pot and trellis it,” says Cunningham. That way your vegetables grow upward and you’re really only using up 12 inches of space on a patio.
If you have a small balcony, Cunningham recommends tomatoes and trellis items, noting that peas and beans are great for small spaces and lend themselves well to vertical or trellis gardening.
Medium yards (Small urban or suburban yards)
If you’re working in a small urban or suburban yard, Cunningham says the most effective strategy is using raised garden beds. For example, Cedar Grove is currently selling three foot by five foot raised beds that are about 18 inches tall and are already assembled.
“Place [the beds] in the sunniest location in your yard with some potting soil or compost-based soil and you can plant anything,” says Cunningham. He notes that it’s easier to garden if the beds are elevated because you’re not spending the entire time on your hands and knees.
Edible gardening and edible landscaping is a trend that Cunningham has observed. If you have a small urban landscape, he recommends utilizing the space so it’s not just ornamental or decorative but it produces foods as well. This tactic can also be aesthetically pleasing. For example, Cunningham says kiwi plants can grow in smaller spaces and, in addition to providing kiwis, they look amazing throughout the year. “The leaves are green with a red trim on them, so they look really pretty but they’re edible,” he says.
If you’re going to do a ground cover, Cunningham recommends planting strawberries because you’ll get year-round color and delicious fruit.
When you have a large space to garden, you can plant both edibles and flowers. There’s also a major benefit to having so much space: You can grow, harvest, and freeze enough produce to make it through the year for a family of three or four people.
“If you maximize the space and have room for a 10 foot by 20 foot garden, you can plant a variety of vegetables there,” says Cunningham. “I think we’ve lost touch with how people used to garden — and that was how they got their produce for the year.”
Right now we’re dependent on others for food, but Cunningham says it doesn’t have to be that way. “We don’t necessarily need to be 100 percent dependent on grocery stores for our foods,” he says. “There’s a lot of things we can do at home if we make the time.”
Making the time to grow your own produce offers benefits that go beyond the dining table. Tending to vegetable, flowers and foliage is also beneficial to mental health. “It definitely helps you turn off all the outside influences and relax for even just a couple minutes,” says Cunningham.
Experts agree. Myra Wooten, a clinical mental health and marriage and family therapist based in Auburn, explains that being outside in the garden and tapping into nature inherently brings calm and reduces anxiety.
“Being outside and working in the garden during the spring, you witness new flowers pop up and vegetables emerge from the earth,” says Wooten, who maintains both vegetable and flower gardens. “It provides a reminder that there are seasons in life and now we’re in a season that’s new for all of us, but it will pass.” Furthermore, Wooten notes that being outside contributes to our vitamin D levels, which are linked to mental health. “Any time your skin is exposed to sunlight, it produces vitamin D,” she explains. “Low levels of vitamin D are often linked to individuals with depression, so you’re countering that by being outside.”
For Cunningham, gardening is a family affair that’s beneficial to his children’s health as well. “Kids are really in dire need of something other than technology and it’s hard right now to find things that are interesting to them,” he says. “But once they start gardening, a lot of times what I see is they do really latch onto it and get enjoyment and satisfaction from gardening. I’d say it’s good for kids and their mental health to participate in gardening.”
Cedar Grove is a local business with roots in the Puget Sound region since 1938. Now offering contactless delivery of its bulk and bagged soil products, Cedar Grove is standing with this community now and always. Local. Organic. Recycled.