7 Easy-To-Grow Plants for Beginning Gardeners
By Francesca Singer, landscape architect and organic farmer
Instead of searching for the fountain of youth, maybe Ponce de León should have spent his time looking for the garden of youth. Research shows people who dig gardening live longer, healthier lives. Studies show a session spent digging in a flower bed is as uplifting as structured exercise. Soil microbes contain antidepressant properties and a healthy dose of vitamin D improves your mood. But successful gardening requires a certain level of skill. A garden that fails to thrive can have a negative effect, creating feelings of inadequacy or failure. Aspiring gardeners would be well advised to start with a few plants that are hardy and undemanding. Build a foundation with these seven starter plants.
Bean varieties run the gamut from slender haricot verts to big, burly favas. But there are only two types of bean plants: pole or bush. Pole beans are climbers that need a trellis or some sort of support, while bush beans are self-supporting. A dozen bean plants given ample sunlight and adequate water can produce enough beans for a family of three. Harvesting mature beans daily will ensure a higher yield, and any beans left on the plant can be picked later for seeds or dry beans. Best of all, legumes naturally fertilize the soil, paving the way for more bountiful future gardens.
2. Leafy Greens
From lettuce to kale and everything in-between, leafy greens are an easy gateway plant for inexperienced gardeners. With the exception of chard, most greens are cool-season plants and perform best as spring or fall crops. Most greens can be selectively harvested for months on end until they “bolt” and send out seeds. Those seeds are easy to harvest for next year’s crop of greens.
It’s often repeated and always true: Homegrown tomatoes taste better than those from the grocery store. Unlike store-bought tomatoes, the fruit from a home garden will have ripened on the vine instead of in the truck. That means better flavor, texture, and nutritional content. Tomatoes are also forgiving plants that give generously and demand little more than sunshine and nutritious soil.
4. Edible Flowers
Plenty of flowering plants are easy to grow, but some are both beautiful and edible. Calendula, borage, pansies, and nasturtiums are colorful, tasty, and require no special skills. Growing edible flowers in a vegetable garden is like a pollination insurance policy. The more attractive a garden is to bees, the more productive fruiting plants will be.
Native plants will attract more bees and wildlife than plants that have been imported to your region. They’re also easier to care for and need little or no maintenance to thrive.
Few plants are as easy to grow and as rich in antioxidants as culinary herbs. The same oils that give them their distinctive flavors also deliver significant health benefits. Mediterranean herbs such as oregano, marjoram, and thyme can tolerate hot, dry conditions. Tender herbs like basil and cilantro thrive in containers. Parsley and dill are tolerant of many different soil conditions, and mint proliferates in the shade. Herb gardens are easy to begin on your kitchen windowsill. Leave them there, or transplant them outside when you’re ready.
Anyone with a sunny spot and a little space can grow squash — and a great deal of it. Like beans, squash grows either as a bush or as a vine. These plants thrive with little care and can produce heavily. Even their blossoms are edible. Community gardens are known for their social benefits, but an overabundance of homegrown zucchini shared with neighbors can have the same positive effect. It’s a great way to widen your outer circle.
There’s a reason potatoes have been a staple in both South America and Ireland. They’re easy to grow and adapt to various climates. Any potato left in a well-lit location has the potential to be a “seed potato,” and will practically grow itself. Many an accidental gardener has discovered potato plants flourishing in the backyard compost pile after tossing sprouted potatoes into the compost bin. Of course, a compost pile can be put to better use, but a healthy crop of spuds is an excellent accidental consequence.You don't need a green thumb to create your own blue zones region in your backyard (or kitchen garden). Click To Tweet
Don’t get discouraged if your early efforts fall flat. Starting off with any of these seven easy, forgiving plants is a way to avoid disappointment. You don’t need a green thumb to create your own blue zones region in your backyard (or kitchen garden) — just a little patience and a bit of cooperation from nature. The effort spent on creating and maintaining a garden yields more than tasty produce. Cultivating a gardening habit is a way of increasing your quality of life.
Francesca Singer holds a degree in landscape architecture from Ball State University and an American Society of Landscape Architects award for interactive design. After running an Austin, Texas, design-build firm focused on sustainable and edible landscapes, she transitioned to organic farming. She gardens extensively and writes about landscape gardening and food cultivation.