My husband wants to start a vegetable garden


Always looking for answers …

So? That’s what many of you reading this will be thinking, as well as “why not?” and “everybody should have a vegetable garden!” And “why is this a big deal?” And, maybe, “what’s wrong with her?”

But you don’t understand. This is very much like—no, it’s worse than—when your 7-year-old comes home with the cute little kitten or puppy. “Oh, c’mon, can I keep it! I’ll take care of it!” It’s worse than that because no such promises are being made, just a lot of statements and questions that indicate less than no knowledge of any kind of gardening, much less edible gardening.

I believe the idea is to do something productive in these uncertain times. So if we both lose our jobs, we’ll still have our vegetables. Or something. Maybe it’s some vague notion that we can eke out edible rewards from the small urban property into which we have poured 10 years worth of resources. (More than thousands of bushels of tomatoes and beans could equal.)

Here are the questions I have faced so far: 

Why won’t vegetables come back every year? What did the Native Americans do? Weren’t the Three Sisters already growing all the time? I don’t want to replant everything every year.

How can I plant them so I don’t have to bend down at all?

Which ones will start producing right away? I don’t want to wait until August.

Which ones are easiest to plant and care for? Which will produce the most harvest for the longest?

Which are the most versatile for meals?

Do I really have to water every day?

Color is important—I want lots of different colors. Which vegetables are most like flowers?

These are the questions—most not unreasonable—of someone who thinks you plant a vegetable garden and get lots of vegetables. I have planted and failed many times with various edibles, but it’s fine for me because I expect failure. I realize that gardening is mainly about failure. I accept it. Indeed, I embrace it.  But I can’t say that.

So there will be a vegetable garden. It will be squeezed into a thin sunny patch on the side of the garage. I will do my best to offer guidance and help choose the plants most liable to succeed. I will troubleshoot. But I don’t want this to be my puppy.

I’m sort of dreading the spring. Maybe—an adventure?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Get him a copy of Rosalind Creasy’s new book, Edible Landscaping. It’s full of ideas and has good info on actually growing and using the vegetables. She also advices drip irrigation on a timer, which might work well in your garden for watering. Or just get it for yourself because you know this will be your puppy, too. You won’t be able to resist it.

  2. Your husband is a college professor or something like that yes? Give the man either Ros or Susan’s book or both from this very blog page to read this winter. He reads without help I bet.

    Sounds to me like he needs an espaliered fruit tree like Jim (mentor) – the no bending over part – and some pole beans for instant gratification.

  3. Oh, this made me chuckle with delight. It is just like puppies and children. I have a new puppy and guess who runs through my garden tearing it to shreds.

    But, still there is so much to learn. You could do a whole series on just half of his questions. I would also suggest Jim Wilson’s book, Homegrown Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs: A Bountiful, Healthful Garden for Lean Times. It answers so many questions. Good luck.

  4. Four Season Harvest, Eliot Coleman. The bible of vegetable growing. Lettuce comes early and stays late. Many colors available. Go for it, Eliz. Embrace the zucchini.

  5. Oh I so enjoyed reading this. I find similarities to this and my sons recent romance with chickens. Let him put in his garden, he will either catch the bug or you will only have lost one spring.

    The chickens on the other hand…

  6. Bless his heart, the poor ignorant dear. Gotta love our husbands and children. I remember when my son at 14 decided he was going to start mowing lawns. He was going to post flyers around. I asked how he was going to get to people’s properties? Had he asked his dad about using the lawnmower etc etc. My son did not go into the lawnmowing business. Probably a mistake on my part. I have a friend who empowered her son’s fledging lawn business and before he was out of high school he owned a truck, a trailer, mowers and had 2 employess.

  7. Fortunately, you are dealing with a male. This lust for veggies will pass, and he will be on to something else — motorcycles, basketball hoops, croquet. etc. The best response: a maternal, “Yes, dear, I know.”

  8. But isn’t this how all new gardeners start? Some start and lose interest and some get bitten by the gardening bug. Without these “poor dears” we wouldn’t have any gardening enthusiasts later! I would second the espaliered tree, next thing you know he will be transforming “your” gardens and the two of you will be pouring over seed catalogues all winter.

  9. I suggest sprouts. Alfalfa sprouts to start. Start ’em in a jar near the kitchen sink, rinse them twice a day, and in 3 days he’ll have a nice jar full of fresh green sprouts: for salads, sandwiches, stir-fry, appetizers. Seriously. Year-round gardening.

  10. I’m with Christopher & Lisa – get the espaliered fruit tree. If he doesn’t like to bend over, raised beds can only go so far (saves the knees, but not so much the back). Try trellising instead. Not just the obvious veggies like pole beans, but also cucumbers & melons & squash & nasturtiums (for some of that pretty, edible color). If he’s willing to trellis & train them, even tomatoes won’t require too much stooping.

    I do feel your pain, though. I gave birth to both of my children in June, which meant that prime planting season was spent with either a too-large belly or a too-small infant for gardening chores. My husband decided to take over. Though he didn’t express it as such, I think he actually thought gardening must be easy if I was able to do it. His questions were very similar to your husband’s. I did my best not to laugh outright. It was a relief to both of us when he handed the ‘puppy’ back to me for care & keeping.

  11. No, no, no to the espaliered fruit tree. They require highly specialized knowledge to keep them in good form–otherwise they go to hell faster than you can say “secateurs.” Plus fruit trees like apples and pears are subject to a whole litany of pests and plagues; if you’re an organic gardener, it’s just going to lead to tears in the end.

  12. Clearly, this man needs to be growing Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) It is a lovely, tall (I know you like tall plants) sunflower with very showy flowers (great for cutting) with yummy potato-like tubers to harvest in the fall. They’re very tough natives, and they should be planted now. You can order them, or just find them for sale as food at any cool grocery store and plant those. And they’re perennial — so no need to replant every year, just leave some tubers behind when you harvest.

  13. I get the puppy issue, but it really seems like you’re overreacting.

    1. Why won’t vegetables come back every year? etc.
    They will if you plant the right vegetables. Look into permaculture stuff. There aren’t so many perennial options for upstate NY (which it looks like where you are from your bio), but loads of things reseed here.

    2. How can I plant them so I don’t have to bend down at all?
    There are raised table-like systems for folks in wheel chairs. But honestly, a bit of bending won’t hurt you if you don’t have a condition it will exacerbate. Use it or lose it. It might even be good for you.

    3. Which ones will start producing right away? I don’t want to wait until August.

    Greens. Plant densely and eat the thinnings. Plant new seeds immediately where the old plants were. Just a few square feet of this and you won’t spend a day without fresh veggies once they sprout.

    4. Which ones are easiest to plant and care for? Which will produce the most harvest for the longest?

    It depends where you live. I’m in upstate NY and I vote kale. No muss, no fuss. Just mosey out every few days and there’s a meal that involved zero work. It starts in the spring and you’ll still be able to harvest it in winter. It gets boring, so I only grow a couple of plants, but if you’re not a picky eater and zero effort is the priority, you can’t go wrong here.

    5. Which are the most versatile for meals?

    Depends on what you like to eat and cook. Take an inventory of that and see which vegetables map onto the dishes most effectively.

    6. Do I really have to water every day?

    If you’re in the desert, you should water every 3 days or so. If you’re in upstate NY, you probably don’t need to water. Ever. Maybe a smidge in the spring if there’s a dry spell and you’ve got seedlings. I think I watered twice last year. And never the year before.

    7. Color is important—I want lots of different colors. Which vegetables are most like flowers?

    Lots of greens come in wacky colors. And all the fruiting plants are colourful as well. Interplant with lots of nasturtiums, which are tautologically the most flower-like of vegetables, and a vegetable garden can be a thing of beauty.

    It sounds like your husband is approaching this thoughtfully and asking the right questions. A well planned vegetable garden _does_ give one lots of vegetables. I’ve got a vegetable garden in my small strip of sunny yard in what passes for urban in upstate NY. This year I planted things, watered it two or three times over the course of the year, and otherwise ignored it except to harvest. My chest freezer is full. I still have fresh stuff I can mosey out and pick for dinner. And I haven’t bought a vegetable that wasn’t a staple or incapable of growing in this climate in years.

  14. Failure is the dark secret of gardening. You need to be strong and allow him to fail if he fails, and succeed on his own efforts if he succeeds. Obviously, you will have to inform him of all the things he’s doing wrong. To get him off on the right foot, he should start with a colorful lettuce, such as ‘Merlot’ grown in a tall pot. No bending required.

  15. I’m thinking cherry tomatoes, pole beans, a pattypan squash, a little lettuce, and some assorted herbs. That should keep him entertained–and it will all climb and fit that narrow space, except for the squash, which is still pretty compact and can fit in the corner. The herbs and lettuce won’t climb, obviously, but they can just be tucked in anywhere.

    Me, I tell my husband he’s not allowed to garden. That keeps it simple.

  16. I would say, first try sending him back to 2nd grade. Isn’t that when they plant bean seeds in paper cups? Second, fill up 4 nice big containers with excellent, fertile potting soil and have him plant a tomato, a pepper, some lettuce, and something else — maybe herbs? Hand him a hose and let him go.

    Or, as some of the kinder and more optimistic commentors have suggested, perhaps he really will follow through and get into it. You could end up with a nice little self-sufficiency garden and possibly be saved when civilization as we know it falls and we all have to go back to eating what we can grow without trucks, trains and planes from other distant lands.

    Seed is cheap. Gardening IS fun. And we all had to start somewhere.

  17. 2 tomatoes… 1 cherry (sunsugar.. addicting and superior to all red cherries)and 1 ?hybrid(jet star, supersonic). a summer squash, polebeans, a little lettuce, couple peppers, swiss chard. Done.

  18. Start him off with an EarthBox where he’ll walk by it every day. He can plant mesclun lettuce and/or radishes and will get them within weeks. If he neglects it, your losses will be minimal.

  19. Elizabeth makes me sound a bit more naive than I am–hopefully, I have learned SOMETHING after my many years of garden watching and hard-scape maintenance!

    But I am semi-serious about the vegetable garden, and I appreciate all your comments (except the ones that compare me to pets, dumb rocks, and that smelly stuff that sticks to the underside of your shoe). I will endeavor to sow in the spring, weep with rain water every day, and reap the crop as long as I can.

    Expect a report next summer, or heap me with well-deserved scorn!

  20. As a matter of fact, these are good executive questions. I wish you both success. I recommend reading Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier to answer some of his lower maintenance veggie questions. Rethinking what we grow: perennial veggies, veggies that thrive on leaner soils, quick growing self-seeding greens mean more ecological, less labor intensive, healthier food-growing.

    Good luck!

  21. Don’t see the problem here – – you may end up with an incredible garden! Except. . . why is he asking you so many questions and not finding out answers on his own.

    Enough on men. If you do read this, have him email me (click on my name to link to website) and I will send him the easiest how-to-garden book ever. He’ll have no excuses.

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