Last winter, my friend and downstairs neighbor, Céleste, decided to move out of her downstairs apartment, which she had shared with her husband for 9 years. My studio had a pair of thin windows that looked out onto a noisy gas station and body shop, but Celeste’s unit received blazing south-eastern sunshine and opened directly into a secret garden. I called my landlord, signed the papers and waited to come downstairs.
Celeste, an avid gardener, had spent the last decade nurturing this Brooklyn space into a lush, mottled paradise – planting frilly ferns and pothos against the shady back fence, overwintering the fig tree in thick blankets before the first snowfall. , and, building and caring for the three large raised beds where she grew vegetables and herbs, which she harvested and left on my doorstep, edible bouquets stuffed in a mason jar. Now the garden was mine.
I was eager to continue, but although I had worked with a lot of beautiful fruits and vegetables in my old job as a pastry chef and was passionate about products in general, I had never gardened before and did not know not where to start. But some friends came to my rescue, offering me their time and expertise as well as some really amazing stuff, like the tray of onion plants Mindy drove from Florida; a trio of used tomato cages that Bob dug up from his garage when I complained about my falling vines; or the giant hay sacks that Jared brought to keep my topsoil warm. They gave me exquisite heirloom debuts, including psychedelic varieties like ‘reisetomate’ tomatoes and ‘sugar rush peach’ peppers, and taught me how to make compost tea (a concoction of compost. and water that nourishes your plants).
I filled bucket after bucket in my tub and walked the length of my apartment every day to keep the beds watered. I was heartbroken, so deep, when the squash borers killed my first zucchini plant, then my second, then my third. I cried when I ate my first tomato, sweet with the skin cracked by the rain. I had big messy garden parties, the slugs sliding down our thighs after the sun went down. I made new friends who were gardening. I gave food. I ate everything else. I forgot about my old kitchen job, at least until I felt the deep, familiar pain after a long gardening session. I had really missed that feeling.
Advice and articles from friends and family have kept my garden alive, and while I can attest that the best gift for gardeners is the gift of self-sufficiency, a beautiful mosaic flowerpot does not. not go unnoticed. I selected these gardening gift ideas based on my own experiences during a season spent digging, watering, weeding and harvesting. These tools might not be the flashiest or the fanciest, but they are the ones that I use myself, and they would make a thoughtful gift to anyone just starting out, even with a few houseplants.
To prepare my raised beds for planting in late spring, I plowed (aerated) all the pre-existing soil, which was compacted and dry from the winter exposure, with a small trowel. Then I bought 160 pounds of organic topsoil and scattered it on top using a quart as a spoon. I mixed everything up with my hands – using the same technique I use to mix cookies and scones – and was awarded the garden equivalent of a blank canvas.
There are many ways to stabilize tall, slender plants like indeterminate tomatoes (which are climbing varieties, like sungolds, which produce fruit throughout a season), but I use waterproof braided twine for loosely tie the vines to the wooden stakes. Besides being my favorite color, the hot pink hue is easy to spot when I’m literally in the weeds, and they provide just the right amount of support for 10ft tall tomatoes, peas, and beans.
Tapered steel wire cages are my choice for purposeful tomatoes (which have a shorter fruit production season and often grow quickly, compact and wide) and other high yielding bushy plants like peppers. They provide structural support on all sides once the plant begins to produce heavy, fatty fruit. The key is to lift the plant off the ground and encourage air circulation; the closer the plant is to the ground, the more exposed the plant will be to downy mildew, rot, insects (and, in New York, rats).
I dilute a few caps of this cold processed liquid kelp organic fertilizer in my watering cans during the early stages of my plants’ growth, when the tiny, vulnerable seedlings of my raised beds rely heavily on the soil for nutrients. My potted plants need even more love; because potted soil dries out so quickly, I like to supplement with additional nutrients.
These indestructible stainless steel scissors are sharp and tough as hell. Cookware brand Equipment I designed them with cooking and cooking in mind, but honestly my couple live outside, where I use them to prune the thick, unruly branches of my lilacs and fig trees and quickly cut herbs, salads and flowers for my house. These make a great gift for gardeners and home cooks.
Chemical insecticides, while terrible for animals and humans, also wipe out bee populations and pollute our water supply. So I stay away. Instead, I bought this organic, non-toxic Bonide BT Spray (abbreviation of the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis) of Ridge hardware in Williamsburg (where I also stock up on immuno-stimulants elderberry lollipops # self-administered care). It doesn’t harm beneficial insects (like pollinators and earthworms), but kills the maddening, destructive worms and caterpillars that gobble up my lacinato kale and other crucifers.
For everything else I mix a 1: 2 dilution of Tabasco sauce and water for a DIY insecticide. Hot sauce contains capsaicin, the chemical compound that I pour over my noodle soups and fried eggs, which causes damage and malfunction to most invading insects (bonus: it’s also a drag on my noodle soups and fried eggs). larger city beasts like squirrels, rats and birds). For best results, transfer the mixture to a small spray and spray on your plants on a dry day with no rain forecast and reapply every few days.
I keep a stack of durable woven straw baskets, like these fair trade Mayan pine needle baskets, which I bought from the food bookstore Archestrate– outdoors with my set of gardening tools. When I’m ready to harvest, I take a basket and fill it with vegetables. It would even make a thoughtful gift for a non-gardener – it looks just as good on the outside as it is on the inside, sitting on my kitchen counter.
Although the majority of my vegetable gardens are in raised beds, I keep a dozen smaller plants (mostly drought-tolerant herbs like rosemary, lavender, thyme, and rue, as well as herbs. evergreens that tend to spread in flower beds, such as mint) in ceramic pots lined up on a rim. My most prized pieces are the terracotta pots covered in pearly mosaic by Brooklyn glass artist Kevin Newcomb. Whether your favorite gardener has indoor succulents or an outdoor herb garden like mine, every group of pots deserves a personal disco ball.
Growing a whole garden from seeds is always too intimidating, but I sowed straight (this is when you drop the seeds directly into the plowed soil rather than in a small container indoors) around a third of my garden, focusing on rapid, immediate growth – the gratifying greens like lettuce, arugula and cilantro, and the prolific vines like zucchini.