Welcome to Gardening School: Becoming a Better Gardener, One Step at a Time

updated Dec 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Will Taylor)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Maybe you’re convinced you’ll never move beyond that notorious black thumb, or maybe you’ve tended a few herbs on your windowsill but feel too intimidated to try more. Whatever the case may be, let this year be the year you start your very own garden!

From container gardening in a courtyard to vegetable gardening in a backyard, we’ve got you covered at Apartment Therapy with our step-by-step Gardening School. This 14-lesson program is designed to take you from concept to completion as simply and painlessly as possible. It’s geared toward beginners, but even seasoned gardeners may find some inspiration over the next three weeks as we work on planning, prepping, and planting an ornamental or edible garden.

(Image credit: Linda Ly)

Benefits of Gardening

Why start your own garden? Aesthetics aside, gardens offer a full range of physical and emotional benefits. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control classifies general gardening as an activity of “moderate intensity” — something they recommend everyone engage in for at least 2 1/2 hours a week.

A 150-pound person can burn up to 272 calories per hour by gardening, even more if your day includes forking over a flower bed or hauling around bags of soil. Gardening also helps you get your daily D — vitamin D, that is, a key component of strong bones and a healthy immune system.

Studies have also shown that a harmless bacterium in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, acts as a natural antidepressant by releasing serotonin in the brain when you breathe it in. If you’ve ever felt calmer, lighter, and happier after taking a walk in the woods or digging your hands in the dirt, you have this wondrous bacteria to thank.

For those of you inspired by the victory garden movement, growing your own vegetables at home comes with a host of wholesome benefits: lower grocery bills, higher nutrition, and the peace of mind (plus the personal gratification) of knowing what’s in your food.

(Image credit: Linda Ly)


As you’ll soon learn, you don’t need a lot of space nor a hefty budget to have a beautiful garden. We’ll guide you every step of the way, starting at ground zero.

The first half of Gardening School will focus on planning and prepping. You’ll learn the pros and cons of a container garden, raised bed garden, and in-ground garden. You’ll learn about soil and why it’s often said that when you garden, you actually grow the soil, not the plants. And if you’re befuddled on the myriad of choices of plants out there, we’ll break it all down for you, from ornamentals to edibles, perennials to annuals, seeds to starts. You’ll be armed with all the information you need to know before you step into a nursery!

Lesson 1: What Kind of Garden Will You Grow?
Lesson 2: When to Get Your Garden Started
Lesson 3: Making a Garden Plan
Lesson 4: It’s All About the Soil
Lesson 5: Choosing the Right Plants for Your Space and Lifestyle
Lesson 6: Best Bets for Beginners to Grow
Lesson 7: The Dirt on Seeds vs. Starts

The second half of Gardening School will focus on shopping, planting, and caring for your garden. We’ll help you put together a shopping list for the type of garden you want to grow, from the bare essentials to the bigger splurges. You’ll learn how to start your own plants from seed and how to transplant them into the soil. You’ll be able to to identify and control common pests, easily and naturally, to keep your plants healthy and thriving. And finally, we’ll send you off with plenty of tips and tricks for maintaining your garden throughout the season.

Lesson 8: The Shopping List
Lesson 9: Starting Plants From Seed
Lesson 10: Prepping Your Space
Lesson 11: Planting Day
Lesson 12: Watering 101
Lesson 13: Identifying and Controlling Common Pests
Lesson 14: Caring For Your Garden

(Image credit: Linda Ly)

Meet Your Instructor: Gardening Expert Linda Ly

Linda Ly is the voice behind the award-winning blog Garden Betty, named “Best Gardening Blog” by Country Living and a “Top 10 Gardening Blog” by Better Homes and Gardens. She is also the author of The CSA Cookbook (Voyageur Press, 2015), a collection of 106 no-waste recipes for cooking your way through a community supported agriculture box, farmers’ market basket, or backyard bounty.

You might know her from her work at Apartment Therapy or The Kitchn, though these days, Linda is fully entrenched in her quarter-acre homestead on the Southern California coast. There, she grows hundreds of varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs and tends to a small flock of backyard chickens. Her interests include fermenting, canning, and other forms of food preserving, promoting top-to-tail cooking using the unconventional parts of produce, and cultivating rare and heirloom vegetables.

Do you prefer ornamental or edible gardens?

I’m an edible gardener first and foremost, but I like to incorporate ornamental plants in the landscape if they attract pollinators and other beneficial insects (such as honeybees, native bees, ladybugs, and lacewings).

Describe your gardening style.

Casual, colorful, and a little chaotic. I love to repurpose random objects as containers (like an old Le Creuset that’s now a succulent container) and many of my favorite garden implements (ceramic pots, statues, hammocks, even a chimenea) were collected on travels through Latin America.

What are your favorite plants to grow?

Tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, summer and winter squash, spring and winter radishes, chard, basil, and nasturtiums, especially varieties in unusual colors with unusual features.

What is your favorite time of year?

Spring, when my garden is at its greenest and the air is filled with the scent of jasmine and orange blossoms.

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