Tips for Starting a Small Garden at Home

Lexi with the plants

“When flowers bloom, so does hope.”

- Lady Bird Johnson

I’ve been trying my hand at amateur, small gardens ever since 2010, when Verity was a small baby. The first at-home garden I ever had was in small containers on our condo balcony. From there, it became bigger containers with more flower varieties and a window box of herbs.

You may be thinking I was an expert gardener from the start. But guess what? For the first five years, I had failure after failure. Even so, I kept at it. I took notes, saving them taped inside my cabinets year after year. I wrote down the dates I planted things indoors and when I transplanted them outdoors. I noted what varieties of plants grew too weak and stringy, and which did better in our short growing season. A gardener's journal really is a must have for keeping track of all your notes!

I’m still not an expert gardener. I may not have all the advice about science, acidity, moisture, and pest control. But I do have ALL the encouragement for you to try your hand at gardening. Here are a few of my at-home gardening tips and tricks I’ve collected throughout the years, plus some fun ideas to get your kids involved in gardening with you. 

Greenhouse frames

Map out the sun

The thing I do first each year in my garden planning is to map out how the sun falls around our yard, deck, and patio. Having this drawn out really helps me as I choose which plants will go in each area. For the places that get hot full sun and little protection, I tend to choose containers or hardy wildflowers, peonies, and roses. I find that these plants do really well with lots of sunlight.

When I have a bit more predictably on the ground drainage, weather, and protection from the elements, I try my hand at more delicate and in-ground items. A few years ago, Clint built me greenhouse frames that were small and could fit right over the garden boxes, and we had the most spectacular garden yields that year. I am really looking forward to building out that same system here in our new home. For super durable and easy raised beds you can try these composite recycled wood and plastic frames.

Protect your garden from pests 

When you’re creating a home garden, it is also important to take into consideration the pests in your area. We have deer and wild rabbits that love to munch and crunch on our bulb plants if I don't keep them protected. Having a dog is helpful because these critters tend not to enjoy being chased by the dog. But there are several low ground perimeter options you can use to stake in around your bulbs to help protect your garden from animals. With a more mature and permanent garden, you can also plant in varieties that deter pests, like unwanted insects and animals. There are also plenty of organic pest control options.


Use containers to plant bulbs

Speaking of bulbs, did you know you can plant bulbs in containers?! Last fall, I got plastic containers that are round and 14 inches deep (similar to this one). I planted a variety of bulbs in each container, watered them, and stuck them on a bottom shelf in the garage to harden all winter. I was so excited to see them start to break through the dirt in the first week of April. 

I would move the containers out to the sun in the day and back into the garage in the evening. After they had toughened up and had buds, I moved them to the back patio to stay. It has been such a treat to see the colors and varieties they give us! My kids love seeing the tulips open in the mid-day sun and then close again at night. 

Growing plants, flowers, and herbs is so fun with kids. They are in awe of the tiny treasures. If you have kids, you MUST get the book Mortimer’s First Garden. Every year when our plants come up we exclaim “thank you God for my miracle!” It is so, so sweet. I love to read it to my nieces and nephews when they come visit as well. 

And remember, failure is ok. 

There is so much to learn with gardening (just as with parenting). Only experience can lead to expertise. This is true in all areas of life. Start small with three or four plants each season and keep good notes. Before you know it, you will be 60 and your kids will be calling asking for all of your “pro” gardening tips.

Garden fun with the kiddos!

Speaking of which: Get your kids involved with gardening! 

My kiddos have really enjoyed getting to help with gardening. Both girls raise pet bunnies who LOVE to eat fresh vegetables. This year will be our third year planting a “bunny garden” with all of the bunnies’ favorites. 

I use planter boxes that are wonderful for small gardens and beginners. Because we live in Montana, I keep mine on rolling wagons so that they can easily be wheeled in to the garage when hail and wind hit or when there is a late frost. 

To get toddlers excited about gardening, start a little fairy garden. You can check out my story highlights on Instagram where I share all of the fun we have with fairy gardens: I just love the whimsy! You can call around to nurseries and garden centers and ask them if they have fairy garden plants. They have sweet little tags that give not only care instructions, but also a story that goes with a specific fairy. It’s so adorable! Every year we look forward to getting Ali’s sensitive plant. Ali and Milton even held their wedding in our garden three summers ago. It was a pure fairytale. 

Kids love veggies they've grown!
Bunnie salad

Join me over on social media where I’m always sharing more tips and stories from my at-home gardening adventures! Happy planting. 

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

- Audrey Hepburn

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More ideas for getting the kiddos involved: