Finding that corner with optimal sunlight, the perfect pot, and the trick for guiding a little sprout to its full, wild potential—is there anything more gratifying than helping a leafy, living thing thrive? In our new Plant Parents series, we spotlight flora lovers and their tips and tools for raising happy, healthy buds and blooms.
When Dominique Drakeford first looked at her Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, apartment with her fiancé, it crossed off a major point on her checklist: It had a big backyard. And in it, she planned to grow her own garden. Now a year later, her harvest is bountiful—cucumbers, eggplants, and all kinds of beans abound—and Drakeford, cofounder of Sustainable Brooklyn and founder of Melanin and Sustainable Style, is many steps closer to her ultimate goal: growing almost everything that she puts on her plate entirely from seeds.
“I had volunteered at a lot of farms and urban gardens in the past,” she says. “But now gardening has really transformed into something that is so intrinsically part of my happiness and joy and healing. It has become so deep for me.”
She starts every day out in her garden and returns to it again and again throughout the day—it’s the place where Drakeford has learned to practice patience and slow down, appreciating the process of getting her hands in the dirt. Although she planted a few crops last summer and fall, her yield this time around is bigger than ever—and she hopes for an even fuller harvest come autumn. Here, she shares the greatest lessons she’s learned in her gardening journey and her best advice for plant lovers of all levels.
On the Best Resources for Learning
Social media—following farmers like Amber Tamm and resources such as Epic Gardening—and reading books like Freedom Farmers and Farming While Black, which was less about the actual practice of farming and more about the history and ancestry of how farming connects to culture. I would post questions on my Instagram Stories and random people would help me with tips along the way. The majority of what I’ve been doing is just sucking it up and learning from my mistakes. I honestly think that’s the best way to learn how to start gardening—allow the plants to teach you.
On What She’s Growing
I have only grown plants from seeds. I wanted to learn how to start from just that because seeds are security. I started all of them in February—I made a DIY grow box because it was really cold. Not everything germinates and sometimes you have to try again. But when it works—I can’t quite put the feeling into words. Right now, I have tomatoes, kale, cucumbers, eggplant, bell peppers, squash, zucchini, pole beans, lima beans, and then a couple of different herbs—sage, basil, rosemary, and thyme. I’m really excited about my fall crop. I’m planning on planting broccoli, cabbage, a bunch of different varieties of kale, bok choy, brussels sprouts, and chard. I want to be able to save a lot of the crops throughout the winter.
On DIYing the Perfect Potting Mix
Figuring out the right mix of soils was a challenge. Initially I purchased a potting mix, but now I make my own. It’s been so much better than store-bought. At the end of the day, it’s all about the soil—that’s how you get healthy plants. As a base, I mix perlite with compost from my bin and coco coir. The amendments I like to add to my soil are ground-up eggshells—they have to be a powder so that they become bioavailable. I add magnesium sulfate, which is Epsom salts for peppers and tomatoes. My fiancé and I drink quite a bit of coffee these days, so I also add in coffee grounds. I’m also very big on cinnamon—it’s an antifungal, because I don’t spray any pesticides or herbicides or insect repellent.
On Garden Rituals
The first thing I do every morning is come out to the garden. Sometimes I’ll do a light stretch or read. I always try to ground myself in some type of ritual. I check the back of the leaves of the plants for insects and disease. I check to see if they need water. I spend a few hours in the garden, and then in the evening I do another check-in. I come out here frequently, even just to get some fresh air.
On the Most Satisfying Success Story
Without question, my eggplant. I’ve never grown it before. She’s feisty—she has thorns all over her as a defense mechanism. She’s the only plant I have to wear gloves while tending. I had a hard time getting bees to come around to pollinate the flowers for quite some time, so I had to move her a bit. I ended up putting her next to other plants with flowers, and I pruned so the bees can actually see and get to the flowers. Even though I planted her at the same time as my other warm-weather crops, she was last to have any fruit peeking through—but the rich purple color of the eggplant is so beautiful.
On the Easiest Plants to Start With
String beans are great, especially if you have kids—they look amazing and are huge when they sprout. My bell peppers were a little slow to get started, but they are pretty low-maintenance. And herbs like basil are so early—she just needs some water and heat and she’s off. I always like to encourage people to take a baby step with whatever they have access to, even it’s just a windowsill.
On the Best Lesson She’s Learned From Plants
We live in this consumer culture that’s so based on instant gratification. There are times I have to catch myself. My squash wasn’t blooming, and I was so ready to pull it apart and separate it into different pots. And then it bloomed the next day. It’s really all about patience and learning how to communicate with other living organisms.
Introducing Domino’s new podcast, Design Time, where we explore spaces with meaning. Each week, join editor-in-chief Jessica Romm Perez along with talented creatives and designers from our community to explore how to create a home that tells your story. Listen now and subscribe for new episodes every Thursday.