by Patti McQuillen

AND  Sally, The Gardening Guru,  Sally is a life-long Michigan gardener.



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Starting a

Community Garden

by Patti McQuillen

While driving home, I see spaces where houses or companies could not fit. I wonder why no one plants gardens, flowers or trees in these gaps between neighborhoods, shopping strips and restaurants. The benefits could help feed families, improve the environment and connect people that might otherwise be strangers.
After conducting some research on the Internet, I discovered successful gardening truly is a team effort. Gardeners can gain more than just advice and tips from neighbors - they can trade seeds, tools and plants. Local or online gardening groups can also be a source of information and fellowship.
One such good place is  Edited and published by freelance writer Sara Noel, the site offers gardeners opportunities to learn more about gardening, discover its benefits and connect with others.
I also read an article, Choosing Gardening Tools, about gardening tools by award - winning, horticultural expert Philip Swindells. For more information and updates check out his daily blog at
While the thought of taking on a gardening adventure might intrigue people, the costs might cause some to shudder. Many small handheld tools cost an average of $4.99. Bigger ones can sell for an average of $10.00 and up. Brand, type and size usually affect pricing. Then there is the cost of seeds, sod, a wheelbarrow and other items gardeners sometimes choose. By the time they add in furniture, elaborate decorations and even art, the costs spiral upwards to the hundreds.
Some people may run from the idea of starting a community garden, especially if it is just to fill in the space gaps in residential and commercial areas. Instead of doing this, I would like to share some ideas from Rachel Paxton and Sara Noel.
In her article Budget Gardening, Paxton discusses ways to save money. For example, she advises gardeners to watch stores for end of season sales. She points out, "even annuals that are almost out of season are a good buy. They won't bloom again until next year, but for the savings you're getting it's worth it to plant them now and wait until next year to enjoy them."
She says "it's fun to trade plants with friends and family. I've landscaped much of my yard this way. Iris bulbs from one friend, grape vines from another, it adds up fast! And all from people who were looking to get the excess plants out of their yard, adding "this is the best way to plant your yard with no expense at all."
In her article, Gardening On a Budget, Noel has ideas too, including "drive around your neighborhood and see what's out there that grows well in your zone." She adds "don't forget to keep in mind if you're designing and planting in shade, sun, or partial shade or partial sun."
Both writers advise gardeners be creative when choosing planters. Old boots, buckets, metal boxes and birdhouses all make for good containers. I see mailboxes, little red wagons and wrought iron decor used for containers. For more ideas go to Whatever you choose to use be sure to drill holes in the bottom so water can drain.
Now that I gave you ideas for how to save money with gardening, how do you go about starting a community garden? Contact you local city and ask if you can use small spaces for this idea. Be sure to ask about any permits, utility lines you might disturb if you dig, and other need - to - know information. Perhaps they might even loan you supplies, sod, seeds and people to help.
Once you get a plan, design signs to ask for volunteers in your community. Include a date, time, location of meeting and contact information so people can request directions, let you know they will attend and ask questions. Contact the media, local radio stations and even schools when asking for support. Gardening is often perceived as a fun way to give back to the community, help the environment and is good for families and individuals alike.
At the meeting, ask people to donate equipment, seeds, sod and anything else that might help. If some people have experience with gardening they can be leaders and help others with tasks. Be sure to include everyone so all feel included. Thank everyone for coming and have a creative reminder of important dates, including additional planning, ground preparation, planting and maintenance of the garden.
Take plenty of pictures and start a scrapbook that shows how people work together, and progress in the garden. This could be a useful tool if you plan to request financial support from companies looking to strengthen their image in the community. If you decide to start a non-profit organization to help run the garden, you can get a tax exempt number. Companies and individuals can possibly save money on taxes by deducting donations to the organization. Check with your local tax office for more information.
There are many types of gardens and before you can do much, you will need to decide what you will grow. Combining fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers will take plenty of knowledge. Sara Noel, advises gardeners consider many features of the space, including "scale, balance, focal point, rhythm, harmony-unity and color" so plants do not look crowded or out of place.
Ready to start a community garden? If yes, I wish you the best of luck! If yes, yet you still want or need more information, check out these sites where I found the articles.
Patti McQuillen is looking forward to being a freelance writer and enjoys her time with Gaslight Writers, a non-profit writing group dedicated to encouraging writers and sharing dreams. She is the webmaster for their site which can be found by clicking In the fall of 2007 she hopes adult writers of all levels will attend the workshop she is planning. Information about it, including early bird savings, can be found on the group's website. Ms. McQuillen is also the author of 100 Things To Try, which offers writing skill activities for kids in grade 2-5. More information can be found on a website she created for kids, Make Writing Fun,
When not busy with writing, she enjoys cooking with her two kids, reading, movies, supporting the military and thinking of new ideas for others to use. Her favorite quote is a proverb, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Rachel Paxton

Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom who is the author of the "What's for Dinner?" cookbook, a cookbook containing more than 250 quick easy dinner ideas. For recipes, tips to organize your home, home decorating, crafts, and frugal living, visit Creative Homemaking at www.creative

Sara Noel

Sara Noel is a freelance writer and the Editor/Publisher of both and of Visit both these sites for information on getting back to basics through frugality, gardening, lost arts, simplicity, and natural family living.

Philip Swindells - EzineArticles Expert Author

Philip Swindells has over 40 years gardening experience. A former botanical garden curator and an international horticultural consultant, he has worked extensively overseas. The Author of more than 50 gardening books, he has been awarded a Quill and Trowel Award by the Garden Writers’ Association of America. He is also a former UK Garden Writer of the Year. He writes a popular daily garden blog with gardening news, views and updates

To contact Ms. McQuillen, please send an email to To make special writing requests, please send an email and include "special writing requests" in the subject line.
This is a free reprint article and may be used provided that her bio, and those of the writers included in this article, remain intact. All links must remain active.

 A Garden Party



MORE articles and information about gardening:


Deck the Hall with Fall


Field of Dreams: Farm Markets


Weeds (humor)


Summer Garden Tips


Small Space Gardening


Plant Veggies in the Kitchen


Late Summer Gardens


Garden Party







sshksallya.jpg (52898 bytes)

Sally D. Ketchum


 New Trends in Gardening


by Sally, The Gardening Guru


Green Words

            “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose is loveliness.”

            --Saint Therese of Lisieux


What’s new?

            Two trends, seemingly opposite, have the same concerns: the environment. The first is a back-to-the-basics simplicity in gardening, using the old methods, the old tools and, of course, organic gardening. Look for old-time galvanized watering cans, wooden-handled tools, small wooden stools for weeding, and real reel lawn mowers. With the old-time reel mowers, there are no worries about engines, oil, and gas; there’s little noise and the exercise is nearly peaceful. A reel mower is also economical; prices start at about $150 or less.

            The second trend involves new products that are environmentally safe—made from natural ingredients. Look for the new Organic Pharm pesticides that come in special products for flowers, vegetables and more. New products baits made with natural minerals also protect plants from slugs. Herbal Armor Repellent is 100% DEET-free and gives 100% protection from mosquitoes for 1 hour and 95% protection for three.


Herb of the month

Cilantro-Coriander (Cilantro’s seeds)

            Thanks to many famous chefs, specialists in Mexican cuisine like Bobby Flay (“Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill Cookbook” and Rick Bayless “Mexican Every Day Cookbook”), cilantro, a staple herb in Mexico, is now common in American cuisine. It is also immensely popular. A new variety, “Delfino,” is an All-American selection and has leaves that are less coarse and more decorative, maintaining the popular kick in the taste. One strong warning, however:  It inhibits the growth of many other plans, both herbs and vegetables, so keep cilantro out of the herb and kitchen garden and grow it in a pot on the porch or deck.


Old timer’s garden lore

            Instead of planting summer bulbs in rows or orderly patches, pick up a good handful of small tones and gently fling them where they are to be planted. (Think skipping stones in a lake.)  Plant the bulbs where the stones land and a natural looking group of blooms will result.


Reading on the garden bench

            “The New Kitchen garden: An American potager handbook” by Jennifer Bartley 

            The colorful cover is only the beginning of this enticing book.  Starting with the origin of kitchen gardens (Even the kitchen garden’s French name--potage!), the book is an apt late-spring read covering such areas of kitchen gardening as it history, principals of the gardening, several designs, and the important factor of maintenance.  If you are thinking of a classic kitchen garden this year, it’s not too late to start one, and reading this book is a good start.


Short Season Gardening

            Read, read, read the print on seed packets, looking for vegetables with early harvests and flowers with early bloom dates.  There is a different in harvest dates even among a specific variety of vegetables, for instance, eggplants, corn, peppers or tomatoes. Consider Early Sunglow corn, Early Glow strawberries, Early Summer Crookneck squash, Early Jalapeno pepper and more. Early Scarlet Globe Radish (Harvest at 23 days.) might be the first homegrown vegetable on your table.

If you aren’t growing your own seedlings, consider the names of nursery plants, “Fourth of July Tomato,” for instance. (Smaller tomatoes like cherry and salad types come in earlier than the larger and especially the heirloom types.)  More tips on short season gardening will appear in summer’s Garden Party Columns.


Sally Ketchum is a northern Michigan food and garden writer. The emphasis on her kitchen garden this year will be making the optimal use of space. Email Ketchum at



The Winter Garden:  Look out the window


by Sally, The Gardening Guru


“Bittersweet,” “Free gift,” and “Winter Garden,” opposites that are jammed together and seem to cancel each other and cause a bit of tension. Poets call that “poetic tension,” and the battling words are called an oxymoron. Yet, we might love bittersweet chocolate, and respond to the offer of a free gift, but when we come to “Winter Garden,” we say, “What?” Yet winter gardens are a reality, but they are like a child’s hidden pictures. You might have to look hard to find them.

   When you’re home and have a few minutes, try this:  Look out the window, the nearest window. What do you see? Snow? Ice hanging from the neighbor’s eaves, or worse—your own? Or, is the scene a February thaw leaving soggy drifts on grass that is a non-descript, brownish gray? 

   The aim is to consider the view a garden, because in the minds of horticulturists, master gardeners, landscape artists and artists of every kind, whether the scene is beautiful and artistic or unkempt and helter-skelter, a winter garden is exactly what is outside your window. If it is helter-skelter, the project needs a makeover.

    Things to consider

        …The lay of the land, itself, small hills, rises and falls

        … Demarcations, tree lines—curved or straight, paths, fences, flagstone areas or hedges     

       …  Existing focal points, large trees, arbors and entrances, decks

    As you study the view, look hard (as in those hidden pictures) for all the things that are there (You can always discount them later.), write them down. Are existing focal points, natural or constructed, where you want them? Should a corner be minimized or emphasized?  If you have a large tree, consider evergreen ground cover around it for the winter garden.

    Consider the rises and falls. Are they attractive, or would leveling them be pleasanter and/or more easily maintained?  If the rises are pleasing, plan not only tall spring and summer flowers, but also herbs, grasses and shrubs that over winter, are evergreen or leave graceful, seeded stalks along the rises. (Ornamental grasses are perfect.) For the next winter’s garden, plan now, plant this spring. Tall plantings work for the back of borders and corner plantings, too. Shrubs and small ornamental trees also add color, those with berries or those with colored bark. Ornamental crabapples are gorgeous and are major attractions for birds, especially the first robins of spring. The resulting height from tall plantings draws the eye upward, a contrast to a snow-covered floor.


     … List basic garden elements

     Along with focal points, demarcations result in discovering beds, borders, and paths--all garden elements. Whether or not they exist in your garden now, keep these in mind for future plans.  Determining how much and what use of space is suitable for the size of your land is an early step in planning.  The tiny garden of an apartment can’t sensibly contain large statuary. On the other hand, a quarter acre of lawn in a winter snow plain is boring if it is simply bordered by trees or a drive.  

    Small details count, for instance, most garden statuary must be protected during the winter. If art is your pleasure, look for winter-proof sculpture. A summer picnic area too far from the house to carry food back and forth might be just the place for a reading, resting and conversation area, but what about that area in winter?   A defining row or low clipped-round shrubs that sets the picnic area apart in the summer, might be an interesting curve or row of snow-frosted globes or closely planted, a low hedge that leads the eye to an interesting tree with a birdfeeder, a garden gate or corner of tall evergreens. Boxwood is beautiful for this use, and if you look for varieties that have “winter” in the name (“Wintergreen,” “Winter Beauty,’ etc.), they will do well in the northern Michigan.

    All plant choices for a winter garden in northern Michigan must be hearty.

   Good choices: Conifers, large or small, are evergreen, and they come in many colors and shades. They’ll bend low, loaded with snow, but will snap back later. Firs, spruces, and pines winter well, and deer usually avoid them. Yews have the bonus of color, red berries into the winter, but protect them from deer. Chokeberries, thicket-type shrubs, are a bit wilder, but the red berries will stay since birds usually prefer other fruits.

   When we consider that we have perhaps five or six months of spring to fall gardening weather, establishing a pleasant winter landscape is sensible. With consideration of proper design, beauty in changing weather conditions, pattern in color and lack of it (think negative space), the prospect of a winter garden becomes not only worthwhile, but also pleasurable and the time to start is now, looking your windows.


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