The Garden Project

On Wednesday I took at free gardening class that was offered by our Park District. The class was taught by four Master Gardeners who are part of the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners program. According to their website:

“The mission of the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program is “Helping Others Learn to Grow.” Master Gardeners involve people in improving the quality of life by helping them find sound management practices for home and urban natural resources, by creating aesthetically pleasing environments, by promoting well-being through people-plant interactions and horticultural therapy, and by contributing to a safe, abundant food supply through home fruit and vegetable production.”

The men and women who taught our class have set up gardens for various assisted living communities and for the benefit of our local food pantry. They are onsite at our local garden plots, are open to questions and offer sound advice for novice gardeners like myself. Master Gardeners, who can be found in all 50 states, offer classes like this to the community at large. People helping people without asking for anything in return? Love it!

I have had good and bad gardening years, and I was happy to hear Master Gardeners shared the same experience. They have also had tremendous gardening years, allowing them to share their harvest and still have too much. To be a successful gardener, they told us we need to have five things: the right soil, the right plant, the right weather, the right timing and the right care. My gardening philosophy has always been buy a plant I think looks healthy, add some nutrients to the soil (without checking what it is lacking), plant on Memorial Day weekend, water it daily and hope for good weather. Apparently, a lot of my gardening success has been based on luck.

All in all, I thought the free class was definitely worth my time. If I take what I learned and all the stars line up correctly for me, I hope to have enough vegetables to give to the food pantry myself. Doing something I enjoy AND giving back to the community at the same time? Priceless.

Update on my garden: I brought my seedlings out on the deck to enjoy the 70+ degrees weather. I gave them plenty of water so they could bask in the sun. I have killed the spinach, onions and lettuce in the process. Everything else is doing fine. Looks like I have some more planting to do this weekend!


Please allow me to brag a minute. I am not talking about my kids or my writing or my cooking. I want to brag about my garden. Two and a half weeks ago, my son and I planted green onions, sweet peppers, zucchini, sugar snap peas, rosemary, basil, spinach and romaine lettuce in a little seed starter kit. These plants will eventually be placed in pots on my deck or in my garden. I normally purchase all my vegetable plants in 3” pots, but I wanted to try seeds this year. I am happy to report that they are doing great!

This has been so interesting to watch. I feel like a kindergartener who planted a bean seed in a Styrofoam cup. My son and I check on them every day and have been tracking their growth on a little journal that we keep next to the plants. The first signs of plants (lettuce, spinach and peas) were visible in 5 short days! It is amazing to see Mother Nature do her thing. While it is gray and cold outside, these plants are thriving in our little basement nursery.

When I bought the seeds, I also purchased a fluorescent desk lamp that is their light source, although they get some natural light from the window. The lamp does not cover the whole nursery so I have to turn it halfway through the day. After an hour or so, the plants outside of the light bend toward the warmth and glow of the lamp. Their movement reminds me that they are very much alive.

The plants have a very calming effect on me. Their slow but steady growth keeps me grounded as if they are saying, “What’s the rush? “ It is sometimes the simple things in life that teach you the biggest lessons.

Things my seedlings have taught me:

1. If you keep looking in the direction of the light, you will get where you want to go.
2. Nourish yourself with clean water and healthy foods for optimum growth.
3. Not all seeds from the same package grow alike. Sadly, some don’t grow at all.
4. Having a cool drink with a seat by the window is a nice way to pass the time.
5. Not matter how many books you read or what advice you are given, you know what is best for your plants.
6. Your garden is your unique experience. Enjoy the process. You will get more out of it than fresh vegetables.

Yesterday I planted the seeds that will be part of my vegetable garden this summer. I have two small garden patches on the side of my house and a dozen pots that sit on my deck. After two bad years in row, last year’s garden produced a lot of veggies. I wanted to get a jump on things this year and thought I would try seeds. My husband and I did our usual stop at Menards on a Sunday morning and I picked up everything I needed.

My son loves to watch the progress of the garden. He shares my enthusiasm for gardening and often volunteers to water. He gives us daily updates on the growth of the plants and proudly invites my husband or daughters out to see a flowering plant or a small fruit forming. Sadly, he only eats one or two of the things we plant. I am hoping that will change with time.

My son was happy to help me start our garden early this year. I put plastic on our kitchen counter and set up our work station. I bought a seed starter kit and we made little flags to mark what we planted. We spent an hour filling and planting and dreaming out loud about how our garden would look this year. He told me about his science unit at school and how they are also planting seeds. Normally, my son does not share details of his school day. Our conversation about his school day goes like this:

“How was school?”


“Did you do anything interesting?”

“No, it was just a normal day.”

“Do you have homework?”

He answers “Yes” or “No” and then the conversation is usually over.

While I watered everything, my son set up the lamp I bought. We moved the seed tray to a sunny window in the basement and put the dome in place. We decided to make a journal to track our progress and put it next to the tray. He promised to check the plants every day and I know that he will.

With this unseasonably warm winter, I can’t imagine how cooperative spring and summer will be for our garden. I am excited about it regardless of how well it does. For me, the fresh produce is only a portion of it. The best part is spending time with my son and sharing something we both enjoy.