5 Tips for Starting a Home Garden

Anuella Alexandre of A Green Community and Green Goddess Diary shares insight into gardening in Florida.

Anuella Alexandre of A Green Community and Green Goddess Diary. Photo courtesy of Alexandre.

Palm Beach Gardens resident Anuella Alexandre’s passion for the power of plants—and her motivation to heal the world around her by cultivating green spaces—led her to launch A Green Community, an organization designed to educate individuals on the relationship between humans and Mother Earth and empower them to lead more sustainable lifestyles.

By providing consulting services on urban gardening and edible landscaping, Alexandre works to eradicate food deserts and nature deficit disorder, which is defined as the negative moods and behavioral consequences of feeling alienated from the outdoors. She aims to connect people to the produce they’re growing and consuming, thereby helping them improve not only their physical health, but their mental and emotional well-being too. The “fairy plantmother” also spreads the word through her Insta-blog, Green Goddess Diary.

Another way Alexandre furthers her green vision is by establishing school gardens, an effort she often accomplishes by teaming up with Revolutionary Garden founder Roderick Johnson, who specializes in building and installing organic gardens and garden beds. Together, Alexandre and Johnson teach young students how to grow and harvest their own crops, leaving a legacy of healthier and more responsible children in their wake.

Below, Alexandre provides five tips for starting a home garden.

Alexandre notes that spider flowers grow year-round and can attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

1. Grow herbs.

Herbs are one of the first plants I usually suggest for people to grow. We know herbs are a great source of flavor for food, but they can also be used to make herbal teas that can help us heal. Parsley, cilantro, peppermint, rosemary, basil, garlic, chives, oregano, and dill are all easy-to-grow herbs. Herbs grow effortlessly as long as they’re provided with a bright, indirect light source.

2. Pick plants that are right for where you live.

It’s always great to have some knowledge of plants that are native to your area and that can survive with minimal care. Florida has a lot of growing privileges, but one of our disadvantages is our depleted and sandy soil. Take steps to build up your soil during your first couple of years gardening; plant cover crops like alfalfa or Sunn Hemp during the off-season and use mulch as a cover to lock in moisture and condition the soil.

Basils grow really well in Florida. Sweet basil and lemon basil are the most popular, but African Blue basil is best for butterflies. In addition, mealycup sage grows perfectly in the summer months, is very fast-growing, and attracts butterflies. Cleome, or spider flower, is a great summer annual that’s excellent at attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.

Mexican sunflower is absolutely my favorite to plant during the summer—they flower nonstop despite heat, drought, and Florida humidity. Pro tip: When buying, try to find the Sundance or Goldfinger strains, as they grow more compact (only three or four feet).

Avoid things that do not grow well in Florida, like rhubarb and asparagus. Tulips and daffodils absolutely hate Florida.

3. Consider the space you’re working with.

For folks with limited space, consider the wide-row (AKA “intensive gardening”) technique. Make beds four feet wide (no more than five feet) and take the “square root” approach when planting by dividing your garden into one-foot squares.

Companion planting is also a great idea if you have limited space, as this allows you to plant plants that benefit from being around one another. It’s a great way to optimize the life and happiness of your chosen plants. For example: Basil and tomato pair well together, as do plants with names that start with the words “baby,” “tiny,” or “dwarf,” like baby milk bok choy.

Opt for plants that won’t take up much space, like cherry tomatoes—my favorite is Barry’s Crazy Cherry Tomato—vining crops like cucumbers and squash, and pole beans. Indoors, choose plants that grow vertically, such as sansevieria (snake plant), cactus, bamboo, and vining plants like pothos, which look wonderful hanging up.

4. Plant your own beauty regimen.

Aloe is my star plant when it comes to a DIY beauty regimen. It’s great for hair and skin. I personally make an aloe face mask once a week to deeply moisturize my skin. My second favorite is chamomile, which is a well-known antibacterial agent and disinfectant.

5. Get kids involved.

Many hands make light work, so get the whole family involved in the home gardening process. Here are a few activities for kids:

  • Involve them in the seed-starting process. Witnessing a seedling sprout is magical for children, and it teaches them patience.
  • Let them pick out a plant at the nursery; give the choice of small succulent plants that are easy to maintain.
  • Introduce arts and crafts in the garden, like imprinting leaves on clay, and let them get as dirty as they want.
  • If they’re old enough, put kids in charge of something like pruning damaged leaves off of plants, watering, or pulling weeds.
  • Plant berries like strawberries, blueberries, or mulberries for kids to enjoy as a snack while helping in the garden.

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