For the longest time, I labored under the misapprehension that gardening was a difficult, costly pastime; that perhaps only those who had a green thumb in their genes (and a giant space in their backyards) could successfully pull it off.

But I’ve since discovered that anyone can garden, and with a minimum of expense and effort.  A little patch of land is a beautiful thing, and when it’s nicely cultivated it does wonders for your home.  Area is no object: It doesn’t matter if your outdoor space consists of a three-acre estate or a fire escape landing (though, of course, the latter does limit your options to potted plants!).  Here are a few tips for those green beginners who want nurture their green thumbs:

Start with the barest minimum of gardening equipment.  All you really need to get started is a shovel, a pitchfork, a rake, a trowel, and some gardening gloves.  Clippers and flowerpots or small plastic tubs could also come in handy, if you can manage them.  Don’t want to worry about a wheelbarrow?   Substitute it with an old laundry basket, which is what I use to cart weeds and clippings to my compost pile.
If you’re a beginner, don’t go to town with lots of different types of plants.  Talk to the staff at your local gardening center, or neighbors who are into gardening, and get tips about which plants are easiest to grow and which ones are best for the season you’re planting in.  Start off slow.  Learn as you grow.
Planting vegetables is a great way to kill two birds with one stone: you get to indulge your urge to garden, and you have a readily available food source for your kitchen.  If you’re going the vegetable route, make sure your garden gets plenty of sunshine.  Avoid planting near big trees, which can suck up all the water.  Plant herbs and vegetables together, as herbs often deter insects.  And again, start off simple- try just a few different veggies to start, and see what works well.  You can build up your repertoire from there.
Keep your garden green.  I mean this in the literal and figurative sense!  Sadly, many people resort to non-eco-friendly means to maintain their gardens.  Reduce your carbon imprint by refraining from using leaf blowers, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.  Try fertilizing with grass clippings; make sure when you do fertilize that a storm is not coming, as rain will wash away and waste your fertilizer.  Kill pests like slugs the organic way: dig a shallow hole in the soil and place a bowl in it, then fill the bowl with beer or a mixture of water, sugar, and yeast.  Slugs will drown when they come to drink.  Planting marigolds will discourage beetles, and you can buy ladybugs at your gardening supply store to get rid of pesky aphids!
If you simply do not have the outdoor space to plant a garden, you can still enjoy the benefits of an indoor kitchen garden.  Growing herbs is cheap, easy, and absolutely tasty!  Chives, mint, oregano, parsley, cilantro, and basil all do well indoors; just make sure they’re near a window where they can get lots of sunlight.

There are so many ways to end up with a lovely and rewarding garden.  My last piece of advice?  Go for it.  Don’t be daunted by the idea of gardening, as I once was.  Just get your hands dirty, experiment, and in no time you’ll be a seasoned gardening expert!


Billee Sharp is the author of Fix It, Make It, Grow It, Bake It: The D.I.Y. Guide to the Good Life (Viva Editions, 2010).  She is also a mother, art curator, and founder of a green cleaning business, among other things.  She lives in San Francisco. Visit her website or follow Billiee on Twitter.