The Basics of Starting Your Own Garden


As featured in Mediaplanet's Construction & Homeowners' Campaign, June 2020.

The gardener behind the popular Instagram account The Happy Gardening Life, Jason Miles, answers questions about how to start growing your own flowers and vegetables.

What are some of the best tools to begin a garden?
You don’t need much. A pair of gloves, a good quality shovel, and a small hand trowel should do the trick. Over time, you’ll end up with a good assortment of additional tools, including garden scissors, a pocketknife, a pickax, loppers, and a good quality garden hose and nozzle. The best tools for getting inspiration are Instagram and YouTube. On Instagram, follow me @thehappygardeninglife, and on YouTube, be sure to check Jess at Roots and Refuge. She’s one of my favorite YouTubers.

What are some of your best tips for beginners starting a flower garden?
Two frugal and fun suggestions come to mind. The first is learning how to take cuttings from plants. You can buy one plant, for example a bare root climbing rose in January for 10 dollars, and you’ll have as many of them as you want by the end of the year. Second, learn to buy and grow bulbs, tubers, and other perennial flowers when they are dormant. When you do this and pot them up early, it’s much cheaper than buying mature plants. Our favorites are peonies, dahlias, lilies, and delphiniums. The beauty of perennial flowers is that they grow back in years two, three, and beyond. You’ll feel like you’re getting a garden full of beautiful flowers for free. And there is a double bonus; many can be divided, doubling your flower power. For an extra-long season of sensational flowers, research when each flower will bloom, and plant things accordingly. You’ll have a beautiful range of flowers from early spring until late fall.

If people want to grow a vegetable garden, what are some plants and herbs they should begin with?
You should only grow what you, your family, or the immediate community are eager to eat. Every gardener learns this the hard way. Start with a conversation with your loved ones early and take on the challenge of growing their favorite fruits and vegetables. For fun, go one step further and grow a variety of options for them. For example, if they like kale, then plant three or four types. If they like basil, select an assortment. Give them what they want but add surprise variations too. You’ll feel like a master gardener when you introduce them to something they’ve never seen or heard of before. If you struggle to find all the variety you’re looking for, check out a great site like

Some people have limited yard space but wish to grow plants of their own, what is the best way they can do this?
Small spaces require smart plans. Start with a piece of paper and draw your area and make a list of everything you want. Edit until you have optimized your small space for a terrific outcome. If you plan well, any space, regardless of the challenges, can be mastered.

Bugs and animals can often get into a home garden, how can people prevent them from eating their vegetables or ruining their flowers?
The first step is to learn what critters are beneficial to your garden and how best to foster them. Then, learn to deal with the unhelpful ones carefully, ideally without any toxic chemicals involved. Healthy gardens have a host of helpful creatures. We all know that ladybugs, Butterflies, bees, and earthworms add value. But there are a lot of beneficial helpers that are less well known. For example, frogs and birds eat slugs. Many times, merely increasing the number of these helpful creatures will reduce or eliminate the bad actors. Beyond that, carefully research non-toxic solutions before shopping in the pesticide or herbicide sections of the big box stores.

A good garden is full of beautiful plants and creatures, all stewarded by a thoughtful and kind soul. Whether your space is big or small, you can do this. Start simply, learn as you go, and share what you produce with others. A happy garden awaits you.