3. Learning Without Opening a Book – The Best Gardening Advice


So how does one learn if not from books?

Oh, I can hear the rebuttal now just by the title! But hear me out, there are ways to learn without reading, and the most important so far…doing. Reading is doing, but passively. I am talking about actively doing. Since I am seemingly disparaging reading, here is something you can go do… ๐Ÿ˜€

I see a lot of raggedy edged beds out there, with turf grass encroaching. Go out and kick edge those beds. It is the natural way the pros do it with a flat edging spade. You can let out a lot of gardening frustration with a spade and have full satisfaction with neatly coiffed bed edges. Feel better now?

The Best Gardening Advice is a bit of satire because the best advice is going to come for experts in your gardening area. It is why I keep stressing to find those to ask with your beginning questions. But we do have some general advice to send you on your path of gardening beginnings.

So what is it with books that can cause all that glue-bound inspiration to fizzle? The “doing” to come to a screeching halt?


The last few posts dealt with just a few simple things every beginning gardener should do while learning. The advice was “Just do it!” and “Befriend those in the know.” Two simple tips.

Books are wonderful and I do endorse books, but sometimes the designs are out of reach or may entice you into things not relevant to your planting zone. You must know what works where you live and experts help to keep it real. Look for those who can give more than a quick answer too. You want the understanding.

The beautiful gardens in books make you spend money on plants and things that you will end up replacing, over and over. Some people like this trial and error approach, but it is not fair to the plants or your pocketbook.

Another thing books do is make one tentative about doing. The overwhelming aspect of good design weighs heavily on beginning gardeners and rather than inspiring, stops them cold without a direction in which to take. Or it works the opposite. People read of the “have to have plant” and guess what, don’t really look close enough at the plant’s requirements. The plant ends up as compost.


Last post I told you all about becoming a Master Gardener. Becoming friends with one is the next best thing.ย  They do talks in the community where all gardeners can benefit, so if just beginning to garden, you learn what is relevant to your area. You might just buddy up to the instructor too, often they are the friendliest bunch. Independent nurseries do the same thing so check them out as well.

With lectures and talks to attend, some of which have hands-on practical participation, you can learn to do a soil test for instance, how to identify pest damage, or maybe, set up a bee hive.ย  These things will be great to know and fun to learn. Starting seeds indoors, or in cold frames is also a great learning experience which helps you get a jump on the season. Any beginner can learn to plant seeds.


Letโ€™s Get Friendly

Like becoming a Master Gardener and having that support structure, you can join a garden club.

Garden clubs beautify the community by planting and installing gardens in towns and villages. In colder months they invite in experts, like Master Gardeners, for presentation and lecture.


Garden clubs also make yearly visits to big public gardens. The design schemes are out of your reach generally, but there still is things to take away from them. You just have to think smaller and look at individual parts of the designs.

Not just a single plant, though. Too many do their gardens plant by plant. Look at the design and see why it works. See the massing and the juxtaposition. That post explaining is coming up.

This plant by plant method is generally a mistake, and learning to see and analyze these type of gardens can help greatly in what you learn over time. In garden clubs, there is always a member or two that is good at and understands design.


A little more ambitious?

Take a design course yourself at a community college. Attend a seminar on laying pavers which gives you knowledge on site grading and drainage. Both courses are interactive,ย  and gets one involved in the process to improve the appearance and maintenance of gardens and landscape. That way when…


You dispense advise to others, you come from a place of combined knowledge, yours and those that taught you along the way.


Like I said, you donโ€™t need to have formal training, but you do need practical experience.ย  So if beginning a life of gardening, the best advice? Just start by doing, and make sure to immerse yourself in activities that surround you with others in the know. Oh, and what next… build your confidence and morale… people help there too. Then we get practical, now go kick-edge those beds.


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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55 Responses to 3. Learning Without Opening a Book – The Best Gardening Advice

  1. I’m not a gardener, but used to love to do it ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hard to garden when sailing around the world to the most interesting places on this Earth. ๐Ÿ˜€ I live vicariously through your images Victor, just dreaming of the day I see those places.

  2. A.M.B. says:

    I get sucked into the plant by plant method, partly because it’s easier to focus on a single plant than on a larger design… until it doesn’t work. Then I’m back to square one!

  3. Created ~ Create.it says:

    Very beautiful photos! I love gardens. Thank you for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Great advice. It’s so important to learn what works in your own area. Books that try to cover the entire United States can be frustrating, especially to the beginner, because you have to constantly sift through the information to see which items pertain to your garden and which items you should disregard.

  5. Great Post – Beautiful Captures – Happy Weekend:)

  6. Honestly, I think the main reason I have garden books is that I cannot garden in the dark, or during winter. I have found some books to be useful in providing ideas and guidance, and I cannot say that I make any more mistakes than I would otherwise because of what I have read.

    • Well, you are not a beginner either. ๐Ÿ˜€

      I deal with many just starting out in my job and volunteering, and have mostly been noting things I learn from them on what they find difficult. I watch them doing the same things over and over. They ask many questions that they themselves can answer by just giving it a try. They read books that confuse them because they do not have the experience to differentiate what will work for them. They always want people to ask. And as I said in the post, the photos intimidate and stop them cold.

      In winter, there is many things to keep one gardening (like noted in the post) in addition to reading a book. Books are wonderful for learning anything, but just as learning anything, it is based on what is learned before at a more elementary stage, building up knowledge for whatever one wants to learn. It is like doing brain surgery with just a high school diploma in a way. Like others mentioned, the books that many buy, they buy for the pretty pictures and don’t know what it takes to get those designs in their garden, or even if the designs will work where they live. A little more learning is all that is order, but learning in practical experience, learning from others that have done these things successfully for a long time.

  7. EcoGrrl says:

    All great advice! I recommend checking out Meetup.com for local gardening & homesteading meetups in one’s area – I found the NE Portland Homesteader’s group that way and we do a garden tour each year so we can share what we are doing/learning/experimenting, plus it’s great fun!!

  8. newvoice says:

    Your information is so spot on. Know what grows in your area first and observe. Look at the seasons and see what will grow. THanks again!!

    • Books can never tell you that information. They can guide one to what is likely a good choice, but have no idea if soil conditions or neighboring of companion plants allow for a plant to flourish. Just think in nature how it works. Certain plants leave an ecosystem just because a neighbor plant replaces it.

      Also, just because one is in a zone, does not mean micro-climates in a garden will not affect what is in a garden. How many do not realize that there are even colder sections in a single garden? Some plants may not take this cold, extended damp condition, so where it is placed in a garden matters too, not just if it needs shade like the tag says. This is the experience of what I speak and you note. It only comes by observing and seeing how things perform over time.

  9. alesiablogs says:

    Oh my. I just comment on Part 2 about everything you are saying this part 3….Great minds think alike….lol
    Books definitely have their place though. Fun post with great photos.

  10. Beautiful images. You are making me feel like putting in more gardens, and that is NOT a good thing! I have enough! But they don’t look like these ones . . . .

  11. Gardengirl says:

    This is a very helpful series you’re writing. I would consider myself an intermediate gardener, but I have no idea about why most of my plants are so successful. (At least my outside plants) ๐Ÿ˜‰ I guess for now it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that I have fun gardening and learn bits and pieces along the way. Thanks again! You seem like a very nice, down to earth person. (Oops, was that a pun?)

  12. Maybe one day I’ll plant a flower garden, but this year I think I want to travel and keep writing. So, in the meantime I’ll just admire the efforts of others and continue to admire your gardening skills.

  13. HolleyGarden says:

    The part about plants is so true. I have figured out what doesn’t work in my area (mostly) so I know how to substitute a plant from a book that I know won’t grow here. I could see someone new easily becoming frustrated if they planted all the ‘recommended’ plants and half of them didn’t live!

    • Many do that too. Even at local nurseries, you can buy plants that may not suit your soil conditions. I would love to have the sandy loam soil conditions that my friend has at his nursery 20 miles away. He even brought it to my garden when it was being installed, but soil reverts back to what is indigenous to the area. Clay and limestone here – and all the amendments I add are something I have to do each year.

  14. I really love your garden photos. They are so full of ideas and inspiration. This Sunday I am attending a class on using recycled materials to build structures (like gates, etc.) and art for the garden. I am leaning on a local expert. I sought him out after reading some of your posts.

  15. And other benefit from your suggestions is that you can make new friends! Ready for part IV!

  16. Is the first photo from the Coastal Maine Botanic Garden? Lovely illustrations and practical advice.

  17. b-a-g says:

    I totally agree, especially about asking people for advice instead of reading books. I’ve discovered that the most unlikely people are into gardening – it’s become a really good ice-breaker.

  18. Phil Lanoue says:

    Wonderful images and commentary!

  19. igardendaily says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Seriously, all of your observations are so right on in my experience. I am finally becoming a MG and loving it. Although I have stuck with gardening for some 15 years, I learned a lot the hard way, trial and error or “doing”. I am learning a lot about soil, diseases, watering, nutrients and micro nutrients as well as garden design in the MG program. Once the class is over, I intend to find a garden group/club to join. I really believe you can never stop learning when it comes to growing! Now to kick edge those borders!

  20. Reed says:

    I think it depends upon the person you are. Also, one has to be sure of the person from whom they are soliciting advice. I can not live without several key reference books and websites, but often when I need to learn something new I go to someone I know who can properly educate me.

    As for the edging, years ago while working on a crew and we started maintenance on a huge property. I spent all day edging beds with my half-moon edger. When I got home and lifted my arm, my biceps cramped and when I straightened them my triceps cramped. That evening I just had to sit on the couch not moving my arms.

    • My first two posts in the series stressed looking to experts in one’s area. Tomorrow, I am going to a lecture by a local, nationally-known bee expert. If I have bee questions, she is the one I go to. I love learning about bees, and would love to have the hobby.

      Well, I can see how if you were using a gas powered edger, all that vibration would make you one aching and miserable dude at the end of the day. The pros I work with always kick-edge the beds with the spade. I actually like doing it myself, but they never let me do it on site. I am too slow and they watch me like a hawk to keep from getting hurt.

  21. Great advice Donna…I like to learn by doing but I need some instructions sometimes so I read a lot of different books an article and then I do it…I do have a MG friend and she taught me a lot and taught the hort class to our high school students at our BOCES where I also learned a lot as I was the Director of those programs a few years a go. Hoping to learn more about design through some courses too.

    • Design classes will be fun. No books in them though. Design is usually taught by doing, and doing over and over. I taught design in college to first year students. I would give a lecture, then give them an assignment and let them come back with the resulting design. No help either, all was on their own.

  22. Christy says:

    Really good post Donna. I think if someone is interested in gardening, they should jump right in and get their hands dirty. You don’t have to spend a fortune to garden and every gardener makes mistakes, that’s just part of gardening! Like you said, join a garden club or become a Master Gardener….gardeners love to share information and plants!! Gardening gives me so much pleasure and fulfullment. It’s just a great hobby!!

    • It is a great hobby, but being part of real estate, many look to have great gardens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is for more reasons than many of us have, like prestige in a neighborhood for instance. But they are not the ones I am referring in the post, I am looking at the beginners before they make the big and costly mistakes.

  23. Nothing beats getting your hands dirty.

  24. Fergiemoto says:

    I grew up on a crop farm (my grandparents’ farm), and we had a large vegetable garden in our yard. Ever since I can remember, we had a garden, and I have a garden now at my own house. I was spoiled with fresh veggies and I still have to have homegrown fresh vegetables. As long as I am able, I would like to plant a garden. A lot of what I know I learned from my Grandmother and Mother, and I still ask them how to do certain things. My mother has a beautiful, envious yard. I also like to visit nurseries and botanical gardens for ideas and learning opportunities.
    You have to be willing to get your hands constantly dirty to be a gardner.

    • Fergiemoto says:

      I also wanted to say that your photos are fantastic! May I ask what camera and lenses you use, especially for your wildlife and action shots.

      • I use a Nikon D7000 and an 80-400mm, 28-300mm lenses for most wildlife shots. I use 60mm macro and 105mm macro for bug shots when they sit still long enough. Many bees I can get with the macro lenses if they are foraging.

  25. catmint says:

    Good post, it’s a pity if people get performance anxiety about gardening, should be just fun. That’s if it’s not about real estate values, that is … I loved the photos in the post too.

  26. I agree 100%. Learning by doing is the best teacher for me but its sometime painful and costly! I love planting too and I learn a lot from experimenting!


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