A Tale of Two Gardens

I’m excited to introduce this two-part guest post to you! Amber had so many wonderful things to say about her (and her family’s) experience of gardening and such helpful suggestions that I decided to turn it into a series. I hope that you’re as inspired as I was and encouraged in your own gardening efforts. Look forward to Part 2 next week!


Guest Post by Amber

Ambers garden2

“I would love to garden, but I just don’t have the time.”

Sound familiar? It’s certainly a phrase I’ve heard before. Having grown up with a garden in the backyard almost every year, I have a tendency to shrug off this little phrase. “Just get out there are do it!” I want to say. “It’s not that hard!”

Today, I had an eye-opener.

This afternoon, my father, my two brothers, and I were out working in a garden, in the humid Virginia air. The soil was red and clumpy – and heavy. Gnats buzzed around our heads as we moved heavy piles of clay here and there, and bent over to plant eight fifty-foot rows of corn, twenty-five hills of zucchini and yellow squash, one row of cucumbers, and one bed of string beans. We began our work sometime around 3:15 that afternoon. We didn’t finish until 5:30.

A little while ago, I sat down next to this computer and pulled my shoes off, ready to relax. I looked at my white socks, now turned red from clay that seeped into my shoes. Every muscle in my arms aches with each movement, and my back is stiff and sore. I am ready to sit still for a good long while, and ready to snort at anyone who calls gardening easy.

That, perhaps, is what many people imagine gardening to be like; back-breaking, time-consuming, hot, never-ending work that leaves you exhausted. But let me tell you about another garden.

This garden is divided into ten beds, each neatly edged in cement blocks or wood. The pathways are strewn with straw or leaves, and within the beds dark soil is fluffy and rich, like brownie mix. The plants are tall and close together, shading the soil so that you can hardly see it. Produce hangs heavy and shiny on vines.

This garden is a pleasure to enter – even if you’re coming there to work. Weeds come out of the soil easily, roots and all. The dirt holds moisture like a sponge, and requires little watering. Produce is within reach and easy to pick; in fact, picking is likely what you’ll spend the most time doing in this garden.

Sound like a magazine garden? Does it sound too good to be real? Too…easy?

It is a real garden. It’s my family’s garden.

Ambers garden1

It’s not a magazine garden. If you walked through it right now, you’d see one zucchini plant dead from squash bores, and two or three bean plants with a bit of fungus growing on them. But it’s still a beautiful place. And we’re not exhausted every time we work in it.

But what about the first garden I mentioned? That is also real. It is a garden we are making on the land of a couple who lives less than an hour away from us. The owner tilled the land briefly with a tractor the day before we planted, and from there on we did all the work.

While there, I realized how easy we have it at home. This was a lot of work! No wonder so many people turn away from gardening after the first try! If I hadn’t been so excited about having so much land to plant things on, I think I could have sat down and cried with exhaustion when I finished raking that 400 feet of clay soil.

What made the difference? Why was that garden so time-consuming and hard, while gardening at home is so enjoyable and an integral part of life? What’s the secret?

Let’s admit it – most people would like to garden. I think it’s something God put in us from the moment He placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Growing your own food – what a freeing thought! But the obstacles are many for some people. How can you fit gardening into your life, without it taking over your life? I hope to give you some tips that will answer that question.

First a disclaimer; if you want a garden, you do have to garden. There is no magic fairy dust you can sprinkle on that bare patch to make things grow. These tips I’ll share are not designed to encourage a couch potato. I’m not aiming for effortless gardening – just less-effort gardening.

I’m not a gardening expert at all, but I’ve listened to many gardeners – ‘specially my Dad – talk about gardening, and I’ve worked alongside my Dad so much, that I believe some of it has worn off on me. From him, I have learned all sorts of information that I could share with you on time-saving gardening. I can’t possibly include it all in one blog post.

So let’s try to keep it simple – here are my top 6 suggestions for fitting gardening into your life…

To be continued next week… Aren’t you curious and excited to read Amber’s tips? Do you wish that you could garden, or garden more or bigger than you do, but feel that you just don’t have the time that it takes?


Amber is the second oldest in a family with six children, and is serving the Lord at home through various ministries and entrepreneurial adventures. Besides gardening, she also enjoys writing, sewing, cooking, baking, music, and reading, and blogs about using skills for the Lord at www.fruit-of-her-hands.blogspot.com.

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  1. We had a small garden this year–our first as a family since my oldest turned 2 this summer, we thought start small so he could be a part of it. Our whole family loves it! We didn’t get very much out of it, 20 tomatoes or so, a few big bowls of lettuce, and later on, we will get some potatoes, but not bad for a 3X5 plot! 🙂 Our toddler loves to be out there and we’ve started to expand it to over 32 X10 for next year. I think my husband liked it more than I did, but someday we would *love* to have a huge garden, like, 1/4 acre!
    Sarah M

  2. Aw nuts! I was gettin’ all mentally prepared to take notes and I have to wait a week! Can’t wait! Thanks!
    This is the first year I’ve started a container garden on my patio. My squash and zucchini are about to unload and my carrots are ready to be pulled whenever we want! As I’ve had to deal with hand-pollinating my squash (we live on the 6th floor and don’t get enough bugs), deal with mildew on leaves and learn the proper amounts of water and fertilizer I can’t help but be excited for a “real” garden one day! This is just a trainer!

  3. Nice tips. I am a new gardener also. I would like my garden to grow “up” next year, rather than “out”.. if you know what I mean. I never got tomato cages up, and everything is all over the place. I have to go out and rescue the tomatoes that are hanging on the ground. Ugh. Also, what do you do to grow corn? Is it some sort of mystery?

  4. I, too, have tried to garden directly in the ground in clay soil. It was a kill-joy. When we moved, the soil was a huge consideration (as was wind) when we selected our new location. As I’ve also gotten older, I wanted to set myself up to be able to physically garden for the long haul. It’s harder on a body of a 47 year old than a 27 year old! Each year we are adding 4′ x 8′ raised beds with 2’x’12’s. (they are actually only about 1 1/2 inches wide). We add chicken wire to the bottom and fill them with our rich dirt and compost. Now, I actually can go out there and work and accomplish something without feeling like I’m dying when I come back in. Not to mention the fact that the time is cut in half.

    I still can’t wait to hear Amber’s tips! Hope you post them on Monday!

  5. You’re making us wait????!!! LOL

    I can’t wait to hear what Amber has to say. But I will wait…I guess I have to. 🙂

    I am feeling pretty discouraged garden-wise these days. It is my 3rd season. My husband reminded me that after all, we are gardening in zone 2b-3a…and we did have a patchy frost just this week (the last one was May 29). Its so hard. I try really hard but I find it isn’t as easy as other people make it look. I think I will focus on only growing cold things. My kale loves this weather! Too bad we love the warm climate things more! I have 18 cucumber plants and have picked 2 cucumbers. Its sort of sad but I guess I have to laugh since I am trying in a place where they don’t grow well. I know they can since the farmer’s market has local ones but I have to remember I am just beginning.

  6. Thanks, everybody, for the kind comments. I enjoy hearing about your gardens, too!!!

    I don’t know of any “mystery” to growing corn. We plant it in hills, and make sure the soil is full of nutrients. Winter squash and pole beans make good companion plants (the prickly squash keep deer and coons out of the corn patch, if you have problems with them). Corn feeds heavily on nitrogen, with is found in fish emulsion – and cover crops (more on that in part 2 of my post!). 🙂 Lots of mulch protects corn’s shallow root systems from drying out.

    Raised beds are a great idea, and a wonderful way to deal with poor soil. I love having them in our garden!

    I can imagine the frustration of trying to grow warm weather crops in cooler climates. Kale is a great idea. You’re brave to try cucumbers – they love the warmth! Have you considered using growing tunnels? They are like mini greenhouses that fit over raised beds. Use of those can really stretch your growing season. They aren’t too expensive to make, either!

  7. Can’t wait to hear more on this either. Great idea for a post! We also are in a cold climate- zone 3-4 and we transplant pretty much everything, even corn. It seems crazy at first but we worked on an organic farm in Maine one year and they did it there too. We make tunnels with PVC pipe and remay and that helps a ton. But, our best crops are kale, lettuces, and broccoli. The pictures of your family garden look beautiful- hope to see more!

  8. SO EXCITED about this post! We just had our first garden this year. It was much less work than I had expected. By far the hardest part was my dh putting in the raised beds. I have lots of plans for next year and can’t wait to read next week’s post!

    BTW, anyone starting out gardening really MUST plant giant sunflowers! They are SUCH an encouragement! They continue to grow and grow and GROW no matter what you do, and they make lovely scenery too…

  9. I am so anxious to read the rest of this post!! My garden did HORRIBLY this year. At least I learned a lot of valuable lessons to share with my readers! I LOVE how neat her family’s garden looks. I can’t wait to hear her tips. Thanks for sharing!!

  10. I am intrigued by these “growing tunnels”. I will have to look into that!

    LOL Giant sunflowers, or sunflowers of any kind, I can’t seem to grow.

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