New Gardener: Starting the garden and buying too many plants

Posted on: June 8, 2019 | Written By: Jess Levo | Comments

Note: Everybody Gardens videographer Jess Levo will be chronicling her adventures as a first-time gardener under the guidance of Doug Oster this year.

My first-time garden is officially planted, and I know it’s going to be totally awesome or totally terrible. There will be no in-between.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. Please, feel free to laugh, because that’s what I am doing with every step. I’m not sure if it’s the blonde in me or if I’m just really this clueless. So here we go:


With rain in the forecast over Memorial Day Weekend, I knew I need to get started on my garden. As I mentioned before, our house is in a valley and doesn’t get the usual sun, and therefore the soil never dries, leaving clay-like conditions. Doug tells me I can use compost, but I’ll most likely need at least a yard. Looking at the area I have already set up (my garlic is growing like crazy in the corner), I figure I can maybe do a mix of the two. My husband helped the evening before and tilled the mud and dirt with a garden rake, and it doesn’t actually look that bad.

The day arrives and I set out to the store. There are only five smaller bags of garden compost left. I buy all those plus three large bags.

Now what to plant?

I already have seeds from Doug, but I’d like a few more things in my garden, so I browse around. Bad idea. I want to plant everything.

I buy a basil plant, even though I have basil seeds. But what if they don’t grow? I think. Thanks to Doug, I already have a super chili plant, but I see a jalapeno one and can’t pass that up. I desperately want a tomatillo plant, but I am having a hard time finding one. Off to another store I go.

Still no tomatillos, but an employee suggests ”Cherokee Purple” tomatoes. I don’t believe I’ve ever had them, but they look cool in the picture so I shrug and grab a plant. I also see romas. Admittedly, I really don’t like tomatoes that much, but I cook with romas often, so if these purple ones don’t work out, at least I’ll have romas.

Thinking I’ve got enough for my garden, I start browsing for some annual flowers. I notice some garden plants are on sale, three for $10. Like Doug, I can’t pass up a good bargain.

Thinking of the special diet I’m on (keto!), I grab things I can eat: zucchini and strawberries (Is it too late to plant these? I’m not sure, but I know they can grow at my house, as there are tons of rogue strawberries growing all over my yard, so I grab them.) I need a third and see spearmint. That sounds fun and small. As I grab the spearmint I see chocolate mint! I learned about chocolate mint when touring Chatam’s arboretum campus with Doug this past winter. It’s not on sale, but I have to buy it. It smells divine and I love mint chocolate!

Once I get home and unload everything, I realize I bought way too much and I’m most likely in over my head. But I better get it planted as best as I can.

I use all but two small bags of compost and it’s looking deep enough so I start with the tomatoes. “Plant 24-36 inches apart,” I read. I plant. I look. There goes half my garden. I really thought I had more space.

Moving on, I plant bean seeds next, cucumber seeds, then the strawberry plant and throw the zucchinis on the end because I know they can spill over. I want my basil seeds planted, so I throw a little in between the tomatoes. This will probably be a bad idea, but I’m just going to go with it for now.

I put the basil plant in an old ceramic pot I have. I put the jalapeno in a black pot I find in the garage, and I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a flower pot or a Halloween decoration.

Leftover I have the spearmint and chocolate mint. I know I want the chocolate mint in the ground, I just have no idea where to put it. Plus, I am out of pots and potting soil at this point. Stay tuned, I’ll tackle that next time.

So day one of my first official garden feels like a little bit of a disaster, but I’ll let you know how things go! Please join me on my journey. I don’t know if I’ll be able to teach you anything, but maybe I can at least make you smile.

Earlier New Gardener stories

Part 1: Birdfeeders Attracting Birds That Will Benefit The Garden

Part 2: Continuing a family legacy of gardening

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See also, Pollinator Palooza Garden Rally: Free event with 17 garden locations to visit

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Doug Oster is manager and editor of Everybody Gardens with a passion for gardening and a love of sharing is experiences with other gardeners. You will also find Doug’s gardening contributions in the Tribune-Review each week. He’s an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer. Oster is co-host of The Organic Gardeners Radio show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Oster’s Outstanding Documentary Emmy was awarded for Gardens of Pennsylvania, a one hour special he conceived and produced for the PBS affiliate WQED. Doug appears every Thursday morning on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today live at 9 a.m. “Gardening is fun, he says, enjoy every day spent outside tending vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees.”