The best plants for novices are the ones that make them happy

Our garden is along a busy street, so we get a lot of questions from passers-by as well as novice gardeners.

When the question is, “What plants are best for beginners,” my answer is always the same, and the reason why was on display during the holidays this year.

From holiday cookies to savory dishes, ingredients in dishes on our table were repeated again and again.

Six of the nine kinds of Christmas cookies we baked had candied ginger in them.

So did the soup we served at dinner on Christmas Eve and another at a luncheon to celebrate the new year on Jan. 1. Ginger syrup was drizzled on pears and ice cream.

I love ginger and use lots of it.

Thanks to a gardening friend, I learned to grow my own.

Holiday meals also featured squash — roasted and added to wild rice for side dishes, mashed with apricot jam and sour cream or turned into gallons of soup.

There’s no end to the squash we’ll be dining on, either, since we harvest about 80 pounds of it, and there’s lots still in storage.

I expect we’ll still be eating it in April, so I’m looking at seeds for another type, maybe something a little less vigorous.

We also managed to squeeze a couple of December meals out of the fresh black kale we harvested before the first killing frost.

I used to keep the cut stems in a bucket of water in the garage, but the last couple of years I discovered green fridge bags kept the leaves fresh even longer.

Pear butter, gooseberry and currant jam, lemon curd and marmalade and pumpkin bread also went out the door as holiday gifts.

We grew it all right here in our own garden.

The bounty is why I always tell novice gardeners to ignore the lists of easy beginner plants and grow what you love.

Flowers or fruit or vegetables — it doesn’t matter. Whichever is closer to the gardener’s heart is the best plant.

How much easier it is to remember to feed, weed and water when you can’t wait to see the results.

How much more are you motivated to fight bugs and weather if the tree you planted will bear delicious pears or plums (or in my case lemons) for years and years.

It really doesn’t matter if apples, beets or geraniums are easiest to grow; if roses are what you love, go for it. Things that make the heart sing are worth the battle with the bugs and the beasts and the weather.

Of course that doesn’t mean novices don’t need to learn to grow their plants, so I’ll make a pitch now for gardeners to attend the Port Washington Garden Club’s winter seminar on Saturday, Feb. 23.

This year, the seminar features speaker David Stevens of Longnecker Garden in Madison with a wonderful presentation about flowering trees and shrubs as well as sessions about growing nut trees and how to remain healthy and fit while you garden.

There are also several workshops, including a taste testing of pesto recipes, photography tips and construction of a garden trellis with stained glass highlights.

The seminar is a wonderful way to hone your gardening skills and meet fellow enthusiasts.

Full details and signup information are on the Garden Club website at

I hope I see you there.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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