DIY Home

Too Many Cooks: Get Your Garden Growing

March 13, 2015

You'll be hearing from the staff at FOOD52 every week in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

Houseplants signify a way of life -- a beautiful, greener, and sometimes edible way of life. We love the idea of blossoming buds and aromatic herbs, but the reality of a windowsill garden can be a little more daunting than the movies make it look. The good news is this: We are not ashamed by our failures, and trust when we say you should not be either. We also tend to be ridiculously overjoyed by our successes, however small, because nothing tastes better than something you nurtured from day one. And that's precisely why we asked our staff:

What plants have you had great success -- or embarrassing failure -- trying to grow or just keep alive?

Shop the Story

Did you grow up growing tomatoes in your backyard, or do you have trouble keeping a succulent alive? Share with us in the comments below!

Christina: Last year, I grew two Meyer lemons and proudly planned an entire meal around them. 

More: Meyer lemons abound? Make five fantastic dinners.

Mei: Four years ago, I bought my husband a Meyer lemon tree -- his middle name is Myer, it was cute -- and we've been unexpectedly successful at keeping it alive. We harvested two lemons earlier this year, which counts as an unqualified success! We made cocktails and pasta with the lemons.

Hannah: Both my parents are avid gardeners -- I grew up with a vegetable garden in my front yard -- but I am the worst at keeping anything green alive. But that doesn't keep me from buying plants. Almost all of them have been adopted by roommates, and my boyfriend is convinced that if I name them it will help them survive. Currently I have a fern named Seymour. Fingers crossed!

More: Learn how to map out your garden

Leslie: I had never been able to successfully grow anything from a seed -- believe me, I’ve tried -- until I took a horticulture class my freshman year. My lab partner and I grew a basil plant and were so pleased with ourselves, we walked 2 miles to the nearest grocery store to get some pasta and all the makings for pesto. The whole plant only yielded about a tablespoon of pesto, but that tablespoon tasted like sweet victory.

Jackie: I kill everything mostly due to too much love and over-watering. I am not allowed to have plants. 

Lucy: I transported two succulents and an overgrown oregano plant to from Minnesota to N.Y.C. in a U-Haul and they survived the journey -- and the winter! Apparently that just wasn't enough of a challenge, so when I was in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving, I decided to bring back a potted rosemary plant (in my carry-on!) from my aunt's garden. It, too, has survived the winter -- but barely. I think one day soon will be the day to call it quits and make a double batch of these scones.  

More: Once you grow your herbs, the next step is drying them.

Lauren L: I tried my hand at my first veggie garden last summer. The squirrels ate all my tomatoes; the brussels sprouts -- which I watered every day -- did nothing; and we ate two very small dinners from the once sprouted broccoli. It sounds like it went terribly, but it was such a great learning experience about squirrel proofing and choosing the right plants for your space. This year, I'll be all about mesh fences and peppers.  

Lindsay-Jean: I have had wild success with my garden -- despite neglect and inexperience -- but I kill houseplants faster than normal. I recently invested (yes, when you spend that much on a plant it becomes an investment) in a fiddle leaf fig plant, which is named Professor Figgins, and it already has brown spots on its leaves. The internet tells me that's either due to under-watering or over-watering. Help! My next houseplant needs to be a paper one. 

Lauren K: Other than all orchids and air plants ever, I've had a lot of luck. Maybe it's because my mom is a horticulturalist? Am I cheating the system somehow?

More: Set your self up for gardening success. Start with a windowsill wonderland.

Erin: My mom is this amazing gardener, so when I was about ten years old, I built her a window box with some herb seeds in it for Mother's Day. I hid it in the bed of an old truck we didn't use much and watered it three times a day, anxiously awaiting the seeds to sprout. Of course, they never did, and on Mother's Day all she got was a window box full of very wet dirt. But the next week she plowed a 3 x 5-feet plot in the garden for me and started teaching me how to grow strawberries, then tomatoes. I'm still no match for her, but it was amazing to have my own mini-garden and learn from "the pro."

What are some of your plant-related successes and failures? Do you have a gardening plan in place? Share with us in the comments below! 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Past Julia Child Fellow at Food52 || Believer in Brunch


Sofia March 14, 2015
I have had bad experience keeping plants (and hamsters) alive. I begged my mom for a basil plant from whole foods and soon after she finally consented, it was a sad, brown, wilted mess (while my grandmas is still thriving). Me and my dad recently bought some small succulents for our coffee table and watched in despair as they slowly died despite almost daily waterings. My grandparents have a beautiful garden in their backyard where they plant tomatoes every summer. The taste of home-grown, ripe, sun-warmed tomatoes picked right off the plant is amazing so I'm not giving up. We currently have arugula, butter lettuce and sage from the farmers market for which we are building our very own box planter. Wish us luck!
Pegeen March 14, 2015
Sofia, I know that frustration. Sometimes you just get a bad plant. (By the way, succulents don't need much water, so watering them every day might kill them.) Your grandparents may have better dirt than what's in your garden or your containers. The quality of the dirt is really important. You could do some research online, or go to a local nursery, to get advice on what to use for your lettuces and herbs. Some vegetables need fertilizer, some don't. Good luck! There is nothing more satisfying than growing your own food. :-)
Pegeen March 13, 2015
Does anyone remember an article in, I think, The New Yorker magazine, a decade or two ago, about the $500 tomato? I haven't been able to dig it up in their archives, so maybe it was a different magazine, but the writing style was similar to Laurie Colwin. It was about a couple's experience buying a house in the country, what it took to clear a vegetable patch, buy a goat for real manure for the tomato plant, nurture the plant, and get one tomato.