14 hard-to-kill plants for your first year as a gardener
tips for growing a green thumb (among other things) this summer.
Published Apr 27, 2016 4:00 AM
by Marni Fogelson
Gardening, whether you own acres upon acres or your space is measured in square feet, can be daunting. There are so many different, gorgeous flowering plants, fruits, and vegetables to choose from. Without a degree in horticulture or a long-standing family gardening tradition, choosing the “right” plants can be overwhelming, especially when you have room for just a few pots or a schedule that doesn’t allow for daily sessions in the soil. These 14 plants were chosen for their lack of fussiness, their flexibility, and their forgiveness when it comes to new gardeners. Even if you have bona fide garden cred, these herbs, fruits, flowers, and veggies are still wonderful additions to most gardens: they’ll add flavor for your taste buds and color to your world. A little green can go a long way, and successfully growing these plants will have you well on the path to creating a vibrant, verdant space.
Just a sniff of basil can be transporting, and growing your own plants allows you to make your own fresh pesto for bruschetta for a fraction of the market price. Lush and plentiful, basil can be planted on a sunny windowsill or out in a garden with lots of sun. Try out Thai basil or purple opal basil for interesting variations on the traditional sweet variety.
Mint grows well in pots, but beware planting it in garden beds: this herb likes to spread out and take over. Luckily, it is amazing for making tisanes, flavoring drinks, and adding to sauces. Mint is pretty sturdy and has a long growing season; you can also plant it in your window if you don’t have outdoor space.
If you can’t wait until the last frost passes, radish is your gardening pick. These veggies benefit from being planted early (with frost actually improving the flavor). They don’t tend to like hot weather, so if you miss your chance, save the seeds until fall. There are numerous varieties of these fast-growing veggies; some such as daikon get nice and spicy as the weather cools down. Eat them whole and raw, shredded in salads, or glazed or pickled.
Can be planted early!
Rosemary smells as delicious as it tastes, and it’s a low-maintenance garden buddy as long as it’s getting sold sunlight hours. Rosemary hails from the Mediterranean, so it likes heat; if you plant rosemary in pots, you can simply bring them indoors during cooler weather. These perennials will flavor your food for years.
We have visions of running through fields of lavender in Provence and then taking a long nap, lulled by this flowering herb’s soporific properties. Until then, we’ll attempt to grow our own lavender on a smaller scale. Lavender is heat and drought tolerant once it is well-rooted. Until then water deeply once every week or so in full sun in a well-drained, alkaline soil. Once you harvest these gorgeous flowers, add them to lemonade, make them into sachets or pillow adornments, or use for homegrown beauty treatments. Lavender is also good for repelling feline backyard visitors.
Kids and grown-ups will get a kick out of growing their own fruit, and strawberry plants are easier to grow and faster than other berry varieties. Strawberry plants don’t require a ton of space, so you can be creative with how you plant them. You can even use strawberry plants as ground cover with the berries as a sweet addition.
If you want a feast for your eyes (and are less interested in cultivating a kitchen garden), try caladiums, often found in the great gardens of the south, although they can be grown with a little more care up north. Caladiums are a perfect option if your garden doesn’t get full-sun. Water them regularly and you’ll be rewarded with heart or arrow shaped leaves and vivid watermelon-like palettes in pink and green.
Black eyed Susans
Black eyed Susans are tough: heat and drought tolerant self-seeders with a long growing season in multiple planting zones. Bees and butterflies love these pretty flowers, so adding them promotes pollination in your entire garden. Once they bloom aplenty, cut yourself a bunch for your table.
Sunflowers are not-so- surprisingly sun worshippers, but apart from sun and regular watering, they are fuss-free. Sunflowers grow and stretch until they are sky-high, making them a fun plant for little ones to watch. You can even use the seeds to make snacks for birds (or people).
The name “Love-in- a-mist” is reason alone to plant these delicate beauties. Easy to grow from seed, these poetic flowers are sweet in window boxes or used as a garden border. You can get several sowings out of a growing season since nigellas don’t live very long. Both the flower and its distinctive looking seed pod can be used in fresh or dried floral arrangements.
“Be nasty to nasturtiums” is an actual saying since these flowers do quite well in poor soil. Make sure quick-blooming and vibrantly colored nasturtiums get plenty of sun (although they will cooperate in partial shade as well). Nasturtiums are edible and look stunning in salads or sprinkled on soup, where their slightly spicy leaves make for a surprising twist on their sweet appearance.
Pansy (deadhead flowers so growmore)
Pansies are sold at many garden stores and as part of school fundraisers since even brown thumbs can stick them in a pot and set them out for a pretty floral touch to backyards and front porches. Skip starting these flowers from seed if you are a gardening novice; simply pick a riot of contrasting colored plants or decorate in one dominant hue. Pansies don’t love the heat, so you can move potted plants to a shadier area during the height of the summer.
Getting your greens is vital; growing your own greens is an inexpensive way to always have these nutrient-packed veggies on hand whenever you need them. Rainbow varieties look beautiful, but whatever type you choose, you can serve them salad-like, steamed, sautéed, and seasoned however you please…and you can even pickle the stems for a zesty condiment.
If you are too busy beach hopping to remember to start your garden until the fall, garlic is a great end-of- season crop to plant since it is actually harvested the summer after it is planted. Some varieties can stand cold climates quite well, so don’t worry if there isn’t a lot of action going on during the winter; come next summer, you’ll be glad you got the garlic going when you have cloves a plenty for almost every cuisine imaginable.