How to Plant a Garden

There are three ways to plant a garden.

  • You can start with seeds, gently coaxing them with warm soil, water and light.
  • You can buy established starter plants from a local nursery or garden center.
  • Or…you can get out-of-the-way and see what the earth has in store.

We refer to them as ‘volunteers’ around here, tiny seeds that make their way into the soil by a variety of methods and grow up to be the healthiest plants in your garden. Volunteers are the handy work of the wind, the birds and in this case a little self-control from the organized gardener. I like things tidy, even the garden, but have learned to show restraint.

It’s one thing to pull out weeds or cut back dying branches.  That helps the garden grow.  But dead-heading flowers isn’t always best.  When I sat on my hands and let my annuals go to seed last fall, wonderful things happened.

For starters, lots of birds. It was a joy to stand at my kitchen window and see them visit throughout the day.  They ate a few, dropped a few and now I have a self-seeding patch of annuals ready for a good soaking from tomorrows promised storm.

Don’t you just love nature?

seed volunteers

Small garden patch near the sidewalk
brimming with tiny seedlings

seed sprouts

Look closely: sprouts galore

seed variety

Variety is the spice of life

20 thoughts on “How to Plant a Garden

    • Ah, tree buds. The very first sign of new life. We barely had a winter her, Betsy. I know we should be grateful, and I do like the weather, but it feels so, so strange.

      Today we finally got some much needed rain. I’m so happy for that. I hope you get more signs of spring in the Northeast soon.


  1. Lol!! I can just see you sitting on those hands that are twitching to organise that garden! I love a wildflower and self sown garden – it speaks of natures organisation and her lushful abundance!! And isn’t it fun to try and recognise what is coming up – is that a wee daisy shoot in the midst of all the other leaves which I don’t quite recognise yet….

    I like your point about deadheading too – I deadhead to keep my plants going as long as possible and you have reminded me it may well be time to stop before it is too late for nature to have her way.

    I have a neighbour [who is not in the least like you!] he abhors the disorganisation that he sees in nature – his garden grows in dead straight lines and anything that steps out line is cut back immediately. I laugh at his anal retention, but feel a little sad too. He was out yesterday evening surreptitiously spraying his poison onto my jasmine and boston ivy that dares to climb above the brick wall we share. [My lovely rampant climbers are shorn off in a straight line at the top of the wall] I gave him a cheery wave and he scuttled off with his little sprayer hidden in front of him……. sigh – now I have to keep Orlando away from that side of the house for the next couple of days or he gets sick from the spray residue.


    • It is great fun waiting and wondering, then finally seeing what is what. I love that.

      I was thinking about your deadheading comment today. I guess a mix of both is good. Deadheading early on, then letting the plants go to seed at the end of the season.

      As for your neighbor, oh dear. How sad that he would actually spray poison on a plant. I love and embrace most of the borrowed landscaping, and only cut back what might damage the fence (like ivy). I do that in a respectful manner, and would never use poison anywhere. It’s bad for everyone. Poor kitty and poor you.

      Our back fence neighbor once set a trap for our cat, then removed his collar and took him to the pound. Can you imagine? We ended up adding a layer of lattice to the fence and buying a fabulous product called the Cat-fence in system. It keeps the cats in the yard, but allows them outdoor adventures without encountering cars or cat haters.


      • Your last paragraph does make me see red! I cannot feel kindly towards someone who acts so cold heartedly – and does it so deliberately! That is plain cruel to animal and owners! At least my neighbour is just uninformed and thereby ignorant!

        I think those cat-fence systems are going to become necessary for us all in the end. At least we will then know our pets are safe. 🙂


  2. Two things, Alys – yes, nature is wonderful and variety is indeed the spice of life! Your garden embodies both of those points so well. I can’t wait to see the seeds grow over time. Goodness I do hope you get a big downpour and your heavenly garden breathes a sigh of relief. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox


    • Hi Dani. It’s always nice to see your rosette next to your blog handle. Funny how we get to ‘know’ each other through our tiny squares.

      It’s been raining most of the day, a strong, steady, warm and wonderful rain. Thank you for your well wishes. This rain is glorious and so are you. xoxoxooxoxoxo


  3. You are the most patient gardener. Luckily your climate lends to that notion. I always let my Cosmos re-seed and grow come what may. But everything else was more….orderly Kaos I guess. Our home was a pie lot with the majority of the flower beds being in the smallest part. So it was a bit of an Orchestration to attempt to have something blooming all summer long. I found the ‘volunteers’ (love that term) were good for that purpose. They’d finally follow the pre-grown Garden Centre annuals with their happy blooms later in the summer. Unfortunately, since summer’s pretty short here, if you relied just on ‘Volunteer’ sprouts, your garden would be sad and empty most of the summer while they grow up. mwaaa xo


    • I love cosmos. They are such tolerant plants, too, requiring very little in the way of soil or water. I don’t know why I didn’t plant them sooner.

      I like the idea of orchestrating a garden. The experts make it all look easy. I finally (recently) realized that even ‘spring bulbs’ come up at different times, early, late…and sometimes not at all. Hee.

      I’ve learned so much about gardening in Canada from you. I’m sure this was all true in Ontario where my dad gardened, but I was so young when we left, that I have very little memory of that.

      Thanks for being here. I hope you are feeling better soon.


      • I actually do feel better tonight thanks to your call and my beautiful flowers, mwaaa mwaa mwaaa 😀 The best Rx ever, Love Sweet Love xo

        I think your dad might have been gardening in zone 6 in southern Ontario and probably had a good many more plants available to him including some tender trees and shrubs that we can’t grow in Alberta’s Zone 3.

        Here’s that map:

        Are you a zone 10? I have a hard time telling the colours on this zone map for California

        Wowie Kazowie, Zone 10 is pink pampas grass! have you ever tried it? Giant waving plumes in a breeze.


  4. Now you may know that I am not a gardener … never had the time while working full time, going to grad school, and raising my child by myself (excuses, excuses). Do Black Eyed Susans qualify as volunteers? I have them everywhere, and I know some don’t like them, I love their bright, happiness.
    A friend brought over some bulbs this past weekend and taught me how to plant them – how silly to be learning that at 50+ years. AND I transplanted some irises from a friends yard and I saw teeny little shoots coming up.
    And THAT, Alys, is my gardening experience! I’ll keep reading your blog and hopefully I’ll keep learning!


    • Wow, LB. You have much to be proud of as you’ve lived a full life and raised a son on your own.

      Yes, Black Eyed Susans qualify. They sound cute.

      There isn’t an ounce of silliness in learning how to do anything north of 50. I say good for you. I have a long list of things I still hope to learn: refinishing wood furniture, quilting, parallel parking in one. ;-0

      Irises are fabulous. They can grow to nearly three feet. I’m excited for you, LB.


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