Springing into New Growth: The Start of a Garden


Olivia Myers

As spring slowly follows behind the final chills of winter, the arrival of the gardening season will soon herald new life and rebirth. Many avid gardeners may already be planning and establishing their garden’s schematics, but others may be fearful to approach the foreign world of horticulture, believing themselves to be incapable or lacking that sought after “green thumb.” However, many individuals discovered a new side of themselves in quarantine as they were impassioned to explore a variety of activities. For those seeking a new hobby to diversify their skillset, gardening is a great avenue to practice discipline while getting outside and embracing a lifestyle centered around self-sustainability, values that also drive Tumwater’s FRESH Program. 


FRESH Advice:

For the Tumwater FRESH (Farm Rooted Education for Sustainability and Health) Program, gardening and the pursuit of agricultural based education extends all year round. Currently, Kristen Maring, the program’s leader, reveals that they “have started seeds of onions, tomatoes, peppers, thyme, rosemary, oregano” and will soon “start [their] petunia hanging baskets in hope to have giant baskets to sell for Mother’s Day in early May” in the greenhouse. In the future, she explains that FRESH will plant “other crops like lettuce and broccoli,” but they “won’t actually start planting seeds or transplants outside until mid April.” 

The FRESH program has met the challenges that COVID has brought them with a strong, positive attitude as Maring explains that “[COVID has] made us be more innovative, flexible and considerate of each person’s unique situation and safety at all times.” FRESH has adapted and continues to work to overcome these hardships by performing health screenings of each person; they also “have focused more on adult volunteers, donated all our produce instead of selling any, and [they] turned [their] barn into a year round classroom. [They] also have done more inside the park than ever before as far as habitat restoration.” Another element of FRESH’s COVID response included the creation of a sharing program for seniors to come each week and collect a bag of fresh produce from the program which Maring reveals was one of her favorite changes so far. FRESH “[hopes] to expand that and reach out to even more people in need.”

For aspiring gardeners, Maring gives a clear route to starting a garden alongside encouraging tips: “If you have space, see if you can locate a sunny patch (or remember where it was sunny in summer). Then I like to do ‘lasagna gardening.’ First, peel the tape off of cardboard and lay it out flat and overlap the corners. Just use plain brown cardboard. Next, rake up any old leaves and pile that on top.” For gardeners looking to invest a little extra in their garden, they can put a layer of straw, alfalfa hay, or alfalfa pellets. Under the leaves, the cardboard will begin breaking down. Maring goes on to explain that “you can collect your kitchen vegetable scraps and bury those to decay and add nutrients to the soil. Worms and other creatures will break down the food scraps too. After a few months, and a lot of rain, and bacterial action, you should have a nice spot to plant some things. By that point in spring, say late May, you can safely plant out tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchini. Or direct seed green beans and lettuce too. Good luck! And remember, almost every gardener will have tips to share. Ask a lot of questions!”


Determining the Plant: 

Although the world of gardening is expansive and filled with learning opportunities, it is important to research and consider which plants will be successful in a spring garden. The plant’s sun/shade and water requirements are some of the most important factors that should be considered when aiming to cultivate a specific plant in relation to its intended growing location. So, if a plant requires large amounts of sunlight but small amounts of water, it would be beneficial to identify the typical moisture levels of soil in that area and to think about placing the plant in a more remote area of the garden to prevent other plants from casting it into shade. 

Consider the other plants that may have an established root system in the area as well. Planting an annual or perennial next to a tree or shrub might lead the new plant to be more malnourished as the extensive roots of a tree would leave little water left for the roots of the new neighbor. Also, determining the intended planting area’s USDA hardiness zone will dictate the plant varieties that will flourish in this environment. Tumwater, Washington is in USDA hardiness zone 8a. According to NRCS.USDA.gov, the “zones are based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones.” To avoid future transplanting mishaps, take into account the plant’s future size and shape, its habit, in relation to its intended planting location. 

Planting in pots is a great alternative to direct soil or raised bed gardening if the individual wants to keep their garden more contained, ideal for a beginner. Thurston County also has community gardens available that people can work on with others. 

Catering to these factors when planning a garden will encourage the plant to acquire a well-established root system and to embrace a strong immunity as it will be less susceptible to disease with its strong foundation. Although gardening requires frequent time and maintenance, planning ahead may help diminish the amount of care the plant may require later in its life.

Gardening Vocabulary:

Perennial– lives more than two years; hardy and low maintenance →  example: roses, tomatoes 

Biennial– plant that takes two years to complete life cycle → example: carrots

Annuals– completes entire life cycle in one year → example: corn

Rootbound– occurs when a plant has outgrown the pot it has been living in, limiting the roots from growing and expanding anymore and is constricted in the pot

Starts– immature plants that are grown from seedlings often in small trays before being planted in the ground

Sow– planting seeds

Till– prepare and cultivate land for crops

Pruning– to trim a plant by cutting away dead or overgrown branches to encourage new growth

Exposure– the amount of time in the sun or shade a plant requires

Habit– a plant’s structure


As the sun begins to start peeking through the winter clouds, consider evaluating a potential planting area and exploring a gardening center to get some quick, hands-on information about available plants, and get the garden party started.


Gardensalive. “How to Start a Garden – Gardening 101: Gardens Alive.” How to Start a Garden – Gardening 101 | Gardens Alive, Gardensalive, 5 Feb. 2001, www.gardensalive.com/product/first-time-veggie-gardenwhere-to-start.

Shahani, Aarti. “This Is A Good Time To Start A Garden. Here’s How.” NPR, NPR, 21 Apr. 2020, www.npr.org/2020/04/17/837300800/this-is-a-good-time-to-start-a-garden-heres-how.