1. The Best Gardening Advice – Just Doing


“The Best Gardening Advice” is not always what you’d think.

So what should those beginning a life of gardening think about and do? And why is it when people think garden advice, all they think about is how to grow plants? Gardens are considerably more than that. This series explores this and more.


I think we are all on different levels of development when it comes to learning anything, but sometimes we invest too much time into learning without doing.  With anything, gardening included, people ask questions that should only be answered through discovery and exploration. New gardeners enter into gardening with great determination and tons of energy. And a way to expend that energy…


Doing anything well means just plain diving in and making things happen. It is the best advice I ever learned as a creative individual and it works for gardening too. Get those creative juices flowing, see what develops. Even mechanical activities of hard work wakes one up to ideas and inspiration.

But making things happen is much more than just growing the plants, but that is where most people start. There are lots of things to consider, like soil condition, plant varieties, maintenance, tool selection, site planning, and a host of other things. It all depends on how successful you want to be in the end.

Doing what you love is something all gardeners should do first and foremost. You don’t love the hard work? Well, let that to others, but what is most important is your ideas and where they take you.


Learning is important because all the fun and energy quickly vanishes when one is confronted with the ills of garden pest and disease. Another discouraging factor with newbies? They go big too fast. This is because they get swayed by images in books and magazines. Just remember, the garden in your head is not the one that will grow in your garden. Soil conditions see to that. Weather throws in a few wrenches. And pests, pester.


Too many rely on reading and not doing.

Doing is what teaches.

So much better to start small, be successful, then with your growing experience, add to the garden in subsequent years. Far better than coping with a large garden filled with pests, weeds and failing plants. Put your enthusiasm to better use.

Those pictures in books are great inspiration, but start with what is attainable for the experience you have. You stay encouraged by having success. You are not going to get gardens like shown in books for many years to come. Time is a factor in the growing garden, but also in the experience you gain.

We never had books…

In design or photography in college, all was learned by doing and interacting with others in our field.


Garden Club member working in a community garden.

There really is little to learn that cannot be learned in the garden, and learning is having those to learn from, those you can ask questions and those that help resolve. We look at that coming up.


Not talking about it, dreaming about, reading about, reminiscing over it, and to take an ad grab from Nike, “Just do it.”


So many people look for a short cut every step of the way. Often a shortcut is an impediment. Time is unavoidable, like I mentioned above.


In many ways, there is a risk in foregoing all the hands-on-discovery. Book learning only takes one so far in understanding. It is like looking to someone else to figure things out for you, but having no one to ask when things don’t make sense.  That is why professionals are taught by doing and work with others in their field while learning. The knowledge becomes a part of one when learning by doing.

This post starts a series to show how important those friends can be. It gives advice you may not have heard or thought important previously, so stay tuned. It works up to those that have some experience and shows why they always can’t seem to put a finger on what a garden might need to be a real success. So how do you find the people to ask or even become one yourself?

Up next the tips on how you make friends and learn stuff that matters.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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56 Responses to 1. The Best Gardening Advice – Just Doing

  1. Barbie says:

    I just loved this post -so many wise words and great Ah-Ha moments ” professionals are taught by doing and working with others in their field while learning….” -love this. So many times I believe I have not enough knowledge to start or make a change – but when going back to my reference books, I realise that I CAN! So I need to practice this. Thanks for this! Look forward to the next one!

  2. A.M.B. says:

    Thank you for the encouragement and inspiration! I’m hoping to get out into my garden more this spring and summer. Your post reminds me of the advice from Peter H. Reynolds’ wonderful children’s book, THE DOT: “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.” [I wrote about this book on my blog on Sept. 11, 2012]

    • I am not familiar with the book, but if I am guessing right, just the act of placing the dot is somewhere to start inspiration. It works that way in all design. Staring at a blank canvas will not be the start of an idea, but one paint stroke will.

      • A.M.B. says:

        That’s exactly right! It’s such important advice in any creative field. It’s a lovely book for children with a message that even adults can appreciate.

  3. lucindalines says:

    Yes, so much of gardening is learn by doing, and for me it is constantly changing and moving until I finally figure out exactly where I like things. In fact around my area the wet vs dry cycles change what works on a given year. Happy gardening this year to all reading.

  4. EcoGrrl says:

    So very much agree. People ask me how they can become gardeners and I used to look at them quizzically. Put seeds or starts in the ground and follow the directions and see what happens! As I like to remind folks, a start costs less than a latte, and lasts much longer. Although I do love my subscription to Organic Gardening 🙂

  5. janechese says:

    great advice and photos.

  6. “The garden in your head is not the one that will grow in your garden.” This gave me pause for thought because at first I didn’t agree — I believe in ‘visualization’ to be successful – a vision of how you perceive the end result. Then I thought of my own gardening situation. The garden in my head is a garden in England, and that will not grow in the stony, clay soil of the Poconos with its extreme climatic conditions. But I still believe in the dream. Along the way it was through the support and knowledge of master gardener educators in my horticulture classes that helped me to feel success. One of the most important points in this important posting is your advice to start small. P. x

    • Other factors play in. Not all plants of the same species will grow to the same height like what might be in one’s head to have the flowing drift one imagines, like your English garden example. I design for a living and it is important what I put on paper is what occurs, but there are notes on the drawings about how nature and maintenance play a role. There are no guarantees in nature or how a garden is maintained over time. Nothing wrong with dreaming, just so the dream takes the first step. That is what beginners must understand, not to be overwhelmed by a dream their experience cannot support UNTIL they learn over time.

      As for being a Master Gardener, my next post is on becoming one. My situation is much different than yours. I was a Master Gardener for three years prior to my taking the classes. I answered questions, by phone, site visits, gave talks and in-person consultation, long before I had my certificate. The local extension office asked me to be an educator because of my over 20 years experience, but Cornell stepped in after finding out I never took the class. It was a formality, but I got the certificate anyway. Next post is all about learning from experts and how important that is to shaping a direction. I encourage all to find those in the know to guide them on a journey of beginnings. Become a Master Gardener, I encourage all at all levels of ability.

  7. Just do something and don’t be afraid of “mistakes”. There really are no “mistakes”. Painting and gardening have so much in common. Great post!

    • Well in gardening there are mistakes, big ones. For instance, improper drainage will compromise foundations, kill trees and generally ruin anything in its path. An annual dying is no big deal. But plant them in the path of poor drainage and that makes a big difference to the petunia and all around it.Painting, I agree no mistakes. I did a series and taught a class on painting by accident. Pretty remarkable what good art accidents make.

      • Yes, there are big mistakes as you point out. I guess I meant the fun part — putting plants in and moving them around. I have an area (away from the foundation) that is low and is often wet. I’ve moved some water loving plants there — simple solution – done : )

  8. Patrick says:

    Great advice for newbies but also wonderful advice for us seasoned folks. Enjoyed this post very much. Nice work, my dear.

  9. I agree that experience is the best teacher. Often people are too nervous about making mistakes to really dive in and do what they want. The best attitude is to realize you’re going to make mistakes no matter what, so don’t worry about it. This has not been my problem when it comes to gardening. In the garden, I am impulsive and impatient. I am always learning more: about what plant does well in what location, about which plants look good together, etc. This is part of the pleasure of gardening. Sometimes the mistakes themselves are fun. Once I had an impulse to plant Asiatic lilies. I ordered 50 and put them – well, I don’t want to admit where I put them. It was a mistake, yet they are still there and doing OK. They make me smile and I don’t intend to move them.

    • You are right about mistakes. I have examples coming of common mistakes that people make and do. Some mistakes end up costly, and those are best avoided. Beginners never even realize mistakes though, so experience ends up being a wonderful teacher.

  10. Excellent post, Donna! I love gardening. Well, my “garden” is a balcony and somehow I’ve managed to leave minimum to no space for human beings. I know nothing of gardening, so I suppose I have a good instinct with plants, because they look very happy! I wonder does anyone speak to their plants?!!! 😆 I think that a good way to learn about them is to really look at them and take notice of changes.

    • You are so right in observing the plants. Changes happen daily in some and so much can be interesting in that respect. Different forms of growth can be especially fun to photograph or paint in your case.

  11. Phil Lanoue says:

    Excellent philosophy and tremendous photos!

  12. Lucy Corrander says:

    How very tantalising – telling us to start small then teasing us with a photo like that at the end!

    • I have a post coming up on the garden in the last image. You will see more of this property. This garden is not tiny like mine, but neither is it really large either. Need your link, Lucy.

  13. HolleyGarden says:

    Love the photos! And your advice to “just do something” is the key to success in so any things in life. Learning by doing, especially alongside others with knowledge, is the best way to become successful. Still, I consider learning from reading quite helpful. I have gained a lot of knowledge from just reading, things that might have otherwise taken years to learn. One of the things I love most about gardening is that there is always something new to learn, some new plant, or pest, or situation that we can learn about, and hopefully, apply that knowledge in our own gardens. All the while surrounded by its beauty.

    • Thank you Holley. You have been gardening for a long time and much of what is in these early posts in the series are to give direction to new gardeners. I have a post in the series explaining why books and magazines can stifle a beginner. To someone with experience it works the opposite. I have a post coming up explaining how my very long-time gardening clients, who read every book and magazine, had them costing money and unnecessary expense. As a professional, we did not have books. This is to keep us creative and original, not swayed by what others design. They expected us to use ideas from the other students in our class as incentive to best them. It was very competitive. I worked with a landscape architecture school in Maryland, and they also taught in this hands on way.

      • HolleyGarden says:

        Thanks for your extra explanation. It makes sense to stay away from other influences while you’re trying to come up with your own creations. And I can certainly understand new gardeners getting overwhelmed by some of the beautiful gardens featured in books and magazines. When I started gardening, it comforted me to read an article by a garden photographer who said, among other things, that every garden he had photographed had weeds. Every one. That gave me license to relax, and away from the thought that my garden must be perfect to be beautiful. In fact, I think now that a little imperfection makes a garden much more romantic.

  14. Great start to your series. I’m looking forward to more! Plenty to think about there. I’ve learned more by making mistakes. I’m one of those people who learn by doing. Books and magazines scare me. Most of them seem to think we know what we are doing, when in fact all we really need is basics to get us started.
    Gardening is in my opinion Trial and Error!

    • I am glad you mentioned books and magazines from a personal perspective. I often tell clients to pull designs from magazines that will show me what they like since it is less likely they can explain it verbally where I have to ask prolonged questions drawing it out of them. Saves them money in this respect with them doing this. When we talk about the images, it is clearer to them what they are seeing from a design perspective and they have a greater understanding whether it is something they would want. For instance, one woman pulled out tropical designs for her pond in zone 6. Not a chance of using those plants, but I could substitute big-leaf cold hardy plants and give her the sense of the tropics. She then realized that many other plants accustomed to our winters could be used that she would have never thought to make a relaxing design. Now all she needed was the blue sky and big bright sun.

  15. A garden and a journey are the same thing, you explain that so well. Your photos are precious because they scream at us in such a soft voice to get up and start walking that the world is out there to see, to enjoy absolutely, and thoroughly.

  16. alesiablogs says:

    As always a great post. I must confess!!!! I am not a gardener. My husband takes care of our yard for the most part. I take photos and I feed the birds…sign…..But I love reading your posts. AND…..I give my husband a tid bit here and there about something you share. : )
    One other thing is that my husband and I are very spend thrifty when it comes to the garden and we have used craig’s list to get a majority of the plants and shrubs we now have in our yard. So we literally have learned on the fly. I purchased the Western Garden Book by Sunset and have found that helpful to a degree, but it is so detailed!! lol Almost too much.
    One thing I would mention is that the woman in that garden photo needs to bend her knees while she is gardening or she is going to get a really sore back! (sorry the nurse comes out of me at times). lol YOU could say I observe the plants in your post and my yard, but also the posture of your subjects in this post..haha

    • I am so pleased that you follow, Alesia. I know gardening is not really your thing. It is wonderful you use Craig’s List for saving money. Landscaping can be very costly and is often 15% of a property budget. I am also glad you mentioned books being too detailed. I mention that in a post coming up. They can often overwhelm a new gardener and stop them in their tracks. Next post I have more gardeners working in a community garden. You can tell me if they have incorrect posture too. The woman in this image was unplugging lights, a quick task. But I am often like her and not bending at the knees. My landscape friends are always telling me how I lift and dig improperly. They don’t let me help on site for fear I will hurt myself.

  17. You are so right. I am a highly educated gardener with two certificates (28 courses) from Longwood, a three year program at the Barnes Arboretum, and design courses at Temple, but none of that can tell me what to do with a particular plant in my particular garden. It is long experience with my site plus trial and error that answers the questions. Plant death is a big part of it and should be expected. Also there are no shortcuts, for example,fertilizers can’t make up for bad soil.

    • So very true Carolyn. Experience tells all. Doing landscaping/growing for so long makes one aware how conditions change in different places. One can amend the soil, but it will always revert to what is there in the first place. The ground moves with free/thaw here and the clay and rock always comes back to the surface. I amend every year and every year pull out huge hunks of red sticky clay that was not there the previous Spring. New gardeners are always told to amend the soil, but not told they will be doing for the life of the garden. And you are so right on the commercial fertilizer. It make lawns and plants junkies for the stuff, a very temporary shortcut. Good point.

  18. Christy says:

    I think gardening is trial and error and that’s part of the fun. If I were speaking to a new gardener, I would say: have your soil tested…soil it so important, when you plant keep in mind how things will look when they mature, if you are gardening on a budget buy seeds and join a club or become a Master Gardener. These are great ways to meet other gardeners and make friends who share your interest. Plus, gardeners love to share plants with others!

    • Thank you for your input Christy. Soil tests are very important and we do them at the Extension office. But the main thing I tell gardeners is to amend with compost. It helps with soil tilth and being neutral, is great for plants. I use manure too along with mineral nutrients. I have an alkaline soil here and rather than try to change the pH, I let it be. The hydrangeas are pink in places, blue in others. I hit on all your points in posts upcoming, becoming a Master Gardener is next. Thanks for adding.

  19. Alistair says:

    As an amateur myself, I tend to think that in a small way I give a little inspiration rather than advice. Although we have managed to create a garden which fills everyone with pleasure who sees it, my blog is all about plants, more often than not, discussing how they performed in our garden rather than telling people what to do. What I have found since blogging is, so many gardeners are obsessed with growing plants whilst never getting to grips with creating a garden of their own that is a joy to be in. Yet many will be very quick to tell how much they don’t like this or that style.

    • Your beautiful garden inspires many as does your discussion of plant varieties. You are very much helping many who live in your part of the world to select plants that will preform in your conditions. I cannot advise you what will grow well in your Scottish garden anymore than you can mine in Niagara Falls, our conditions vary greatly. My posts will be saying this much because where one lives, determines what particular plant grows well far more than any gardener, amateur or expert. Having a plant not suitable to the existing conditions makes for either an unhappy plant or an overworked gardener.

      I fully agree with you, ” What I have found since blogging is, so many gardeners are obsessed with growing plants whilst never getting to grips with creating a garden of their own that is a joy to be in. Yet many will be very quick to tell how much they don’t like this or that style.” People do gardens plant by plant rather than looking at what they are creating. I have this mistake coming up too. Even a few of my very knowledgeable and garden savvy clients have made this costly mistake. I also hear people criticizing mostly formal gardens. I know they don’t understand the designs, especially those that are minimal and stark. I am always amazed at what some say.

  20. bigdub101 says:

    I love the doing advice. I did the same thing and posted a blog on it called “What is the worst that can happen?” Of course, ask me in a few months if it works out.
    Love the blog.

  21. So completely true. One of the most rewarding things is life for me is learning by doing, there is no greater experience and in gardening after learning from others, you have to learn from yourself.

  22. As an educator I can tell you that all the research shows the best way to learn is through hands on…I learned so much by doing, reading to find more info and ask others for their expertise, then doing again and refining.

  23. Every time I am working with the Master Gardeners I reflect on the information I am sharing…thinking back to where I garnered that knowledge. Much of my gardening experiences were with the MG unit in VA where we worked together, learning from each other.
    In my own garden now pests do more than pester….they destroy!! Very aggravating.

    • Honestly, I don’t think much to what I learned in the classes. Mostly because of working on landscape design for twenty years I was pretty set in what I knew. The other MG in our office that answered phones with me was the bug guy. He was a chemist by profession and had no problem making concoctions to kill bugs. I was the one that got caught though. He also was a rosarian and was great for the people into roses. I never had to care about giving rose advice. My advice on roses was by the carefree varieties only. My friend never grew those, only the picky tea roses.

  24. Whee, I love that chickadee!

  25. I like to have both, book learning and working in the garden so I can try and solve a problem. But there is always an acception which is good because it keeps you on your toes. I remember reading Gertrude Jekyll said she was still learning when she old. That made me feel better at a time when I was being swamped with knowledge at Burnley (Australia’s horticultural college).

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