If you've been around Gardenary for a while, you know that we are on a mission to flip the garden industry. Currently, the garden industry is pretty much all about product. Product, product, product. In this article, I dive into the issue of people starting their garden ventures at the store, rather than with knowledge and with people.
We're trying to flip that so that instead of starting at the store, you start with a person. A person who knows how to garden and who particularly knows how to garden in your area. We want to put people over products. In fact, we think product is the very last thing you should go after in your garden.
A garden consultant is that person. They're trained to help you learn to grow in your own space, to increase your chances of finding quick success in the garden. And when it's time to purchase products like seeds, soil, plants, etc., they'll steer you toward what's right for your setup.
With that in mind, let's look at the five questions you should ask your garden consultant when you meet with them to make sure you're taking full advantage of their knowledge and experience.
questions to ask your garden consultant - number one
What are the possibilities in the kitchen garden each month here where we live?
If you're a beginner gardener, you might scroll through pictures of gardeners in different states growing something that isn't yet possible in your area due to the weather and become confused. You might see garden advice intended for nationwide appeal ("March is the time to start your garden" or "Prune your tomato vines in August") and feel overwhelmed trying to understand what you can grow when. In reality, gardeners in Florida will not be growing the same thing at the same time as gardeners in Maine.
That's why this is an area-specific question. Your garden consultant should be an expert on what you can expect to grow in your garden in your specific town or city. They'll be able to give you a rundown of what you can plant every single month of the year based on your climate.
Instead of winter, spring, summer, and fall, our garden consultants teach you about your growing seasons, which are different, and these growing seasons will help you unlock the possibilities for what you'll be able to grow in your garden space. They might even open your eyes to plants you hadn't considered before and build excitement for what you'll plant in the next season. There's always something to look forward to when you know what will be possible during the next season in your garden.
questions to ask your garden consultant - number two
What should my first steps be based on my goal in the garden?
We humans tend to leap into projects without pausing to ask ourselves what we really want to get out of the project in the first place. So before you can ask this question, you need to determine your garden goals. Figuring out your goals, your why, before you get started and buy plants, dig up grass, and build raised beds, will set you up for more success than if you were to just dive into a design or plan.
Let's explore three different goals you might have.
goal number one: beauty
You might want your garden to be as beautiful as possible. Maybe you care most about it enhancing the aesthetics of your home or increasing the value of your property. You want to be able to look out your kitchen window and feel pride at how your garden looks, or you want your garden to be a relaxing backdrop for your home office.
If beauty is your priority, you would ask your garden consultant, "If my goal in the garden is beauty, what should be my first step?"
goal number two: production
Your goal might be to harvest as many leaves, fruits, and vegetables from your space as possible. Within this goal, you need to determine whether you care more about harvesting a wider variety of things or a larger quantity of just a few things.
If this is your goal, your consultant might lead you to select a different area in your yard to maximize sunlight than if your main goal were beauty. By maximizing hours of sunlight, you'll get more production out of your space. Or your consultant will help you figure out how to grow as many plants in your space as possible or which plants to prioritize to maximize harvests.
If production is your goal, you could tell your consultant, "I don't want to buy greens from the grocery store for the next six months. Give me a garden that'll make that happen."
goal number three: experience
Maybe you want an educational experience where you get to learn from your garden—how things grow, how the seasons affect growth potential, how a seed turns into a plant that produces more seeds. There are endless opportunities for learning curves in gardening.
Maybe you want a relational experience. Your garden will be a place for your preschooler to explore or a place for you to chat with your teenager and harvest together. Maybe your aging parent is coming to live with you and you want your garden to be easily accessible so that you can all enjoy the space together. Maybe you'll welcome neighbors to come visit your garden or host parties there.
Maybe you have an entirely different goal for your garden. Maybe you want to grow only plants you can use to produce dyes for fabric. Maybe you only want to grow flowers you can cut for bouquets. Your goal can be anything, but the main thing is to take some time before meeting with your consultant to think through your primary goal.
When I first started gardening, my children were preschoolers, and I was looking for jobs to give them in the garden, ways to connect with them and build their appreciation for nature. As they've gotten older and I've gotten older, my goals have changed. Beauty is a much bigger priority for me now. Know that your goals can change each year.
Can you have more than one goal? Certainly! It's rare that someone only wants one thing. Rank your goals so that you can be clear with your garden consultant what you're hoping to get out of your space. This will guide your entire conversation.
questions to ask your garden consultant - number three
What have you had the most success with in your own garden?
Along with this question, you can also ask, "What have been the biggest successes of your clients?"
This will set some realistic parameters for your garden dreams. It might be the reality check you needed. If you have room for a 20-square-foot garden but have a mile-long list of vegetables you want to grow, your consultant can help you reign in your expectations, prioritize the things you'll most love to grow and eat based on what you can actually produce in your particular space and climate.
Alternatively, their answer to this question might expand your understanding of the possibilities. Maybe you had no idea you could grow your favorite eggplant variety for so many months of the year. Either way, you'll get a better idea of what people like you are doing in your climate.
Think of your consultation as an opportunity to gather as much wisdom as possible from this gardener who's a couple steps ahead of you in their garden journey. Their wins and successes (and those of their clients) can help you gauge what your gardening future can look like as you grow your own garden.
questions to ask your garden consultant - number four
If I follow your recommendations, where could I be as a gardener six months from now, one year from now, and three years from now?
Again, we're talking about setting expectations and starting to understand your path forward. If you set up your garden the way your consultant recommends, they should be able to chart what you'll learn in a short period of time and how your knowledge will build on itself over the next couple of years.
Knowing where you're headed helps to prevent feeling overwhelmed or frustrated in your first few months of growing. You'll be able to see that gardening is a long-term game. Most hobbies or skills take a while to master; you wouldn't expect to start running tomorrow and run a marathon next week, right? You have to build up your stamina over time. Gardening ability is not something you're either born with or not. It's a skill that you can slowly acquire, as long as you stick with it and keep on growing!
questions to ask your garden consultant - number five
If you were me, what would you do?
This question is honestly my favorite. It's actually something great to ask any expert in any subject, really.
My mother is an interior decorator but has always stepped back and let me do my own thing, rather than rushing in with advice when it comes to paint colors and decor. It took me a couple of questionable design choices that I later regretted before I learned to ask her this question, which gave her the perfect opportunity to apply her experience to my situation.
This question will similarly give your garden consultant the chance to say, "I'd actually put the garden over here," or “I would prioritize this instead of that,” or “I would start small.” Who knows what answer they'll give, but one thing's for sure—it'll be based on their experience.
Everything they've done in their own garden and all the clients they've helped before you will shape their answer. They're bringing all that to the table, which counts for a lot more than an idea you saw on Pinterest or something you read in a garden blog. Your consultant has practical hands-on experience right in your area, and they're going to be able to speak directly to your particular spot.
They want to give you a garden space you'll love, but now they can also help to guide you toward what'll work best.
Those are the five questions that I recommend asking your garden consultant when you meet. Now let's look at three things to look for when you're hiring a garden consultant in the first place.
What to Look for in a Garden Consultant
one: they're from your area
While there are general principles of gardening that hold true for most areas, there's no substitute for local knowledge from someone who's gardened in your climate, who's having the same amount of rain, sunshine, storms, and winter as you. That's why I started the Garden Coach Society in the first place, to connect beginner gardeners to people who have experience growing in their particular town, who have gardened in that exact climate.
Local is always best, and finding a garden consultant who is gardening in your town or city sets you up for success.
two: they're a great teacher
You want to find a garden consultant who's helped others learn to be successful in the garden. There's a difference between someone who is successful in a field and someone who's successful in a field and can teach it to others. Just because someone knows how to garden doesn't necessarily mean they have a clear way of conveying that to other people. Ask to see their work with other clients to see who they've taught.
three: they can help you make a step-by-step plan
The best consultants are the ones who've taken all their experiences in the garden and created a framework to pass their knowledge to others in clear, easy-to-follow steps. They should simplify the process of becoming a master gardener for you.
Gardenary Garden Coaches Are Here to Help
If you're reading this and thinking, “I don't know if there's anybody like that in my area,” well, ding, ding, ding! At Gardenary, we're here to connect you to local coaches who have a passion for teaching others and who've been trained inside our Garden Coach Society to create frameworks for their clients to follow.
Our fall session of Garden Coach Society lets out soon, meaning there is going to be a whole new crop of talented coaches starting their own businesses in cities and towns across America (even some in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Find a garden coach near you who's been trained by Gardenary and has registered in our directory. You can search by map and pick a state to see consultants closest to you.
You can rest assured that these coaches know how to help you with the things I've mentioned: how to help you move toward your goals, how to guide you toward success, how to set your expectations, and more.
We're on a mission to train thousands of gardeners to start their own garden business so that we can flip the garden industry from product to people. I want to become the Airbnb of gardening, a platform where people can come to search for a garden consultant and get the help they need in their garden to move to the next step. That is the vision.
If you're ready to set up your garden consult, just remember that asking good questions will get you good answers. Keep these five questions in mind and you'll be on your way to becoming a master gardener.
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