Guest Blog: Lara Casey - Lessons From the Garden
This summer we’ve had big aspirations of growing big, beautiful gardens that yield a large harvest. While we aren’t always successful, we love seeing the beauty that comes from the gardens of some of our favorite green thumbs. One of our favorites to watch that has us green with envy is our friend Lara Casey. We caught up with her to pick her brain on gardening hoping to sharpen our own skills. Read her tips below.
How did you get started gardening?
I am an unlikely gardener. I have killed a lot of plants in my life! For the majority of my existence, I didn’t understand how people loved spending time with plants or getting their hands dirty. My mom and grandfather were always out in the dirt, but I just didn’t get it! And then something unexpected happened. Here’s a peek at my upcoming book, Cultivate (comes out June 27th!):
‘Gardening seemed like a gentle hobby for those who had more time on their hands. Yet here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type, much less live: God was transforming a plant killer like me into a gardener. Gardening was not a hobby I randomly picked out of thin air; it was a craving. As my life was being changed by God’s grace, my hands followed. I began to feel an insatiable desire to nurture what I had been given—and even more than that, to grow things I never imagined wanting to grow! One spring day, I decided to get my garden growing. I stood in the yard and opened a pack of yellow pear tomato seeds. As I unsealed the packet, I steadied my hands. If you’ve ever enjoyed an heirloom tomato in the summer, you may have noticed the seeds. They are tiny and delicate. I reached into the packet and touched one with my pointer finger. It grasped onto me as if I now held some responsibility for its life. I could choose to cultivate it or let it remain dormant. Inside a seed is something powerful: potential. And potential is scary, isn’t it? It calls us to grow—to take action, to become, and to step forward in faith. Lifting the fragile seed carefully out of the packet, my breathing slowed. Planting seeds is risky. It’s putting our trust in something bigger than us. It’s optimism and faith. It requires letting go, and I don’t like letting go. I like being in control. I like efficiency, security, routine, and predictability. I like having a plan. As I looked down at the seeds, I knew I held possibility in my hands.
What do I do now? How do I plant this? When is the right time to plant tomatoes? How deep in the soil do I plant them? How much should I water them? How many seeds do I plant at once? What if I don’t do this perfectly and it doesn’t grow?
I had a choice: risk imperfect progress to grow new life or regret not growing anything at all.’
What do you think I chose? It will surprise you! You’ll find out what happened with that little seed when the book comes out. : )
But, I did, in fact, start a garden.
Or rather, it started me.
What is your favorite thing to grow in your garden?
I love planting flowers and vegetables together, and my favorite flowers to grow are zinnias. They come dozens of colors and are super hearty. In fact, in most southern climates, it’s not too late to plant them! They love the summer heat and, where I live in North Carolina, they flower all the way till the first hard freeze in November. My favorite varieties are from Floret and Park Seed.
You’ve mentioned that “growing things is the greatest thing ever.” How so?
There’s something magical about seeing something come from what appears to be nothing. From a tiny seed can come a plant, fruit, or even a giant oak tree like the Angel Oak in South Carolina. It’s the same with our lives. Small beginnings are often looked down upon, but everything starts somewhere! Little by little progress adds up in our goals and relationships.
How do you find time to garden?
I trade TV for my trowel!
What are your favorite tools to use?
First, I love local garden stores! I do shop at some of the big box stores that carry locally grown plants (Lowes often has lots of local growers highlighted!), but there’s something magical about going to the smaller garden shops. One of our favorites here, For Garden’s Sake, even has goats, chickens, and alpacas that you can visit. Local garden shops are often run by passionate gardeners who get excited when someone asks a question or needs advice. Use the resources in your area–you might even make a new friend or two!
A few supplies we use and love:
- Greenes raised bed kits — We have several of these and they come in all different sizes. SO fast and easy to assemble!
- Tomato ladders – These things are the best!
- Tomato cages
- Nitrile-coated garden gloves – Great if you have roses or pokey veggies like cucumbers.
- Joyful Garden planner
I do have a few trowels and clippers, but I often end up using soup spoons, Grace’s craft scissors, and my bare hands! You don’t need fancy tools to grow a garden. And larger sticks from your yard make great tomato supports too!
How do you decide what to grow in your garden?
Great question! First, define why you want to grow things. What kind of garden do you want to grow, and why gardening in the first place?
For food? If so, what do you like to eat?
For teaching? This is why I first started our garden. I wanted Grace to experience the miracle of growing things–from start to finish–and all the garden has to offer!
For fun? My grandfather loved growing the weird things: pineapple sage (we love growing it too!), huge tomato varieties, and unique hybrids.
For beauty? Maybe you love the idea of creating a garden space as an environment to enjoy.
For filling vases? We love growing several flower varieties just for cutting and sharing with neighbors.
For attracting butterflies, birds, and bees? This is why we plant zinnias–the pollinators that love them help to grow all of our veggies.
What is it for you? You may have one reason or 10–there are no wrong answers here. List your priorities and it will help you determine what to grow, and what not to grow. Maybe you are living in an apartment and only have space for a few pots by the windowsill–that’s great! Maybe you have just enough space for containers–that’s great too. Maybe you prefer low-maintenance air plants or you only want a few great house plants–wonderful. Or maybe you don’t like to eat veggies and you just want pretty flowers–that’s awesome too!
The bottom line here: use what you have, and use it in a way that’s unique to you.
‘There are countless ways to grow a garden, just as there are many ways to grow an intentional life. There are kitchen gardens, vertical gardens, cottage gardens, raised beds, roof gardens, square foot gardens, window boxes, rose gardens, wildflower gardens, container gardens, terrariums, herb gardens, water gardens, butterfly gardens—and the list goes on. No two gardens are exactly alike. Imagine your life as a garden. Unique. Purposeful. Unlike any other.’ – from Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life
Your upcoming book, Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing An Intentional Life, is inspired by the lessons you have learned in your garden. What can our readers expect to learn when reading your new book?
This is a book I never thought would come to life. I started writing it over two and a half years ago, and soon after starting, I found out I was pregnant with our son and we also adopted a little girl. We had two new babies at the same time and life started to come undone. But, as I write about in these pages, it turns out that coming undone is part of coming alive. The heart of the book changed as our lives drastically changed in the process. Cultivate is a book about embracing imperfect grace-filled progress to grow a life of joy. It’s a book about learning to love the in-between and grow in the wait. And it’s a very practical book about how to cultivate what matters to you little by little, and with some big leaps of faith along the way too!