Planning a garden is an evolving process. Let it change with your goals and needs. Nothing is set in stone, nothing has to be permanent. My plans change dramatically between sowing my first seeds and planting out, and have evolved wildly from year to year. There’s a saying that a garden is never finished, a gardener’s work never complete. Embrace that thinking and let your garden evolve naturally.
There’s value in planning ahead. I could have saved myself a lot of time and labor if I had thought more strategically about how to plan my garden when we bought this property five years ago. But there’s also something to be said for getting to know your land, your soil, and your goals before buying a bunch of plants and breaking ground. It’s a balance between thinking ahead so you have a plan and giving yourself room to grow.
Years ago I began growing flowers right at the cusp of flower farming becoming a ‘thing’. At first, I wanted to do what the big growers were doing- I planned tightly spaced rows with an acre of burned landscape fabric, miles of drip irrigation lines and netting. I aspired to grow high-value crops like Lilies, Peonies, Dahlias and Roses. Very quickly, reality set in. My manpower is limited- it’s just me and Jeff here on the farm. We value organic methods and don’t own heavy equipment; resources are limited. We have two little boys and two full time jobs. To grow flowers like a flower farmer, the basic set up is incredibly time intensive and prohibitively expensive. It’s a typical business model- you invest heavily the first few years expecting to build your base and not return a profit for several years. It approaches growing flowers as a business: it’s straight rows, plastic weed mats, and little room for imagination.
The first year, red Lily beetles decimated my Lily crop, I let my dahlias freeze in the garage after pulling them up, and lost all but one of my peonies. The second year, I struggled getting the landscape fabric down and we had a searing hot spring that killed many of my tender transplants. Everything else I planted out so late that nothing bloomed until September. I spent the entire season so stressed about timelines and investments that it wasn’t until early winter that I could take a step back and re-evaluate what I was doing. I want to grow beautiful things naturally and reduce my reliance on plastic and fuel-hungry heavy machinery.
A Return to the Wild
Flowers are beautiful and growing a field of them should feed the soul. Why do I garden? Why do I grow things? What gives me joy? Certainly not an acre of landscape fabric and a bunch of disease-ridden rose bushes. Why was I spending so much time and money following someone else’s methods when I never set out to be a flower farmer in the first place? I am a gardener. A wild gardener. My tendency is to let all beneficial plants grow where they want. If a cleome sprouts in the middle of my cosmos, I embrace it. If calendula takes over my garden path, I let it. My nasturtiums absolutely destroyed any hope of a carrot harvest last season so this year, I’m planting carrots out in the field. The nasturtiums will stay.
This year, I have a plan. I’m keeping my straight rows for one more year before transforming to a more labyrinth-like plan. I’ve moved all my annual flowers into the front field while my vegetables and grains will stay beside and behind my hoop house. All my perennial flowers, many of which I’m patiently waiting to bloom, will go into the landscaping near our house. Flowers are meant to be enjoyed and I can’t enjoy them from my kitchen window when they’re 100 yards back behind the hoop house.
I fully expect this plan to change as the growing season begins. After all, planning a garden is an evolving process. But making a plan like this helps me wrap my head around what I’m growing this year and lets me envision bigger, bolder things to try next year.