A long-standing featured section here at Smells Like Home has been Gardening and this year in 2022, I’m bringing you a whole new realm of gardening fun as I introduce you to my first collaborating author, Robin Dini.

Robin and I became fast friends in college way back in the ’90s and she’s a complete home gardening guru. She has been transforming the gardens and property surrounding her home in Connecticut into a magical place and I know you’re going to love reading along with her.

Robin will lead the creation of new gardening posts, focusing on flower gardening and houseplants. Flower gardening has always been a passion of mine but it’s not something I’m great at in practice and I have a total black thumb for houseplants. So I’m confident you’ll get way more out of Robin than you would from me on these topics.

Working with her hands is a thing for Robin. In addition to avid gardener, she is also a doula, knitter, sewist, photographer, thrift store guru, up-cycler, and chronic furniture re-arranger. She has an eye for color and design, and she’s not afraid to change things up when new ideas emerge, which you’ll see as she starts sharing her garden design posts. You can follow along with Robin on Instagram: @withincreative

I’m also going to be writing a slew of new posts about vegetable and herb gardening for the home gardener. The post I wrote years ago about the best herbs to grow is one of the most popular on the site every summer and I felt like it was time to share some more of my own gardening experiences after growing herbs and veggies for almost 20 years now.

But, without further ado, let me introduce you to Robin and her first post on Smells Like Home, Flower Gardening in New England: The Basics. Please welcome her to the family!

Robin Dini (@withincreative)

Smells Like Home Gardening Collaborator

Robin Dini is a Connecticut native and resides in a quintessential New England town on the shoreline. Her love for gardening and all things plants and flowers is rooted in her deep connection to nature and her childhood spending countless hours outdoors. Robin’s gardening philosophy is to grow what you like, experiment with new things, and do your research.

cosmo flowers
Cosmo Wildflowers

Spring has finally made it’s debut here in New England and that means it’s time to clean out the garden beds and start stirring up the soil! Once the last frost has past, it’s a great time to get out in your gardens and turn the soil and prep the beds for plantings.

But before any plants go in the ground, let’s make sure you have everything you need to get started for a successful gardening season.

Basic Gardening Tools

After the snow shovels are stored back into the barn/shed, it’s time to take inventory of your gardening tools.

The basics include:

  • Hand trowel
  • Hand rake
  • Metal garden shovel
  • Metal rake
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Work gloves (to protect your hands from poison ivy)
  • Hoe

You can find all of these at any garden department at your local hardware store.

Meditating Garden Gnome

Spring Clean-Up

Cleaning Out Garden Beds

Start out your garden clean up with a rake or with your hands and pull out all the dead leaves, dead plants, and any debris that collected over the winter months. I like to get on the ground on my knees to start tilling the soil by hand with a hand rake.

I go in and just loosen up the top soil of dirt and aerate it to break up the clumps and the thick layer of dirt that forms in winter. You can spray the bed down with a hose if you want, but I usually leave it for a good rain shower to soften everything up.

Seed Starting
Planting from Seed

Top Soil and Compost

Next comes the topsoil and the manure or compost. I like to use Agway for our soil supplies because they typically run a spring sale with great deals on buying in bulk. Check out your local nurseries and garden supply stores for their weekly flyers.

Many offer the option to purchase online for pickup and they’ll load it right into your car. Throw those bags in your wheelbarrow and head over to your beds to start adding in the soil/compost mixture of two to one: two bags of topsoil for every bag of manure.

Once you’ve dumped it all in there, use the flat side of your metal rake or your hoe to spread it out and move it all around your bed and around existing plants and shrubs.

English daisies
Red and White English Daisies

Planting Flowers

Planting Annuals vs Perennials

Now that you have a great mixture of new soil in your beds, it’s time to add some plants. There are two major types of plants: annuals and perennials.

Annuals are plants that do not grow back every year. Annuals are plants that go in the ground (or pot) for one season and do not winter and come back for the next year.

Perennials are plants that go in the ground and come back each year. The major difference between the two is that annuals typically need to be watered daily (sometimes twice a day if it’s hot). Perennials need to be watered after their initial planting for a few weeks to help establish their roots. After they have been established, they pretty much survive on their own and will come back next season and every year after that.

Wild White Yarrow (early season)

Popular Annuals and Perennials in New England

Popular annuals are marigolds, impatiens, snapdragons, petunias, geraniums, zinnia, begonias, and so many more.

Good hardy perennials to consider in your garden are yarrow, milkweed, bee balm, English primrose, English daisy, bachelor button, bleeding heart, Shasta daisies, bearded iris, and hosta.

Planting Annuals and Perennials

The general rule of thumb when planting your garden is to keep your perennials in the back of your beds and add in the annuals towards the front. This makes for easy watering and visually pleasing composition of the taller plants in back and the smaller in front.

purple bearded iris
Purple Bearded Iris

Know Your Hardiness Zone

One of the most important things to know about gardening is your hardiness zone. This will determine what kind of plants you can put in your garden to expect successful growth and blooms. Know this before you head out to the garden center to pick out your plants and flowers.

Another factor to know is light and shade tolerance. Plants vary when it comes to the amount of sunlight and shade they require. The staff at the garden center and the information listed on the tags coupled with the plant will give you all of this information. Knowing this ahead of time will make planning what to buy much easier.

What the hardiness zone tells you is how well a plant will survive cold temperatures in your area. This is mostly important for planting perennials because they stay in the ground and establish themselves once you plant them.

Hardiness zone information does not apply to annuals since they are only planted for one season, typically in the summer months.

source: The Home Depot

Benefits of Gardening

Getting your hands in the dirt and turning your soil to prep your beds for planting is a ritual that rings in the warm season and sparks our desire to spend more time outdoors in the spring and summer.

Have fun getting your tools and your soil ready and treat yourself to an afternoon at the greenhouse picking out plants that make you feel good. Once you have them in the ground and take the time to care for them, your connection with your garden will grow.

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