The scent of soil, the feel of damp roots between your fingers, the taste of a guava flower as it dissolves on your tongue — on every level, gardening is pure therapy. Is there an emotional experience purer than the thrill of a first tomato or the agony of a withered succulent?
When large parts of our day-to-day feel like second nature, gardening is how we continue to learn new stuff — methods, tricks, tips, history, science, ways to nurture something whose progress can you sometimes track by the day. No matter our skill level, we grow along with our plants.
But how do you do it? How do you plant that plant (and what plant should you plant? And where?), and after you’ve done that, how do you prune, water, sun, graft, you get the drift, et cetera?
So many questions. Questions we’ve been finding answers to on Garden Tribe. Launched a year ago, Garden Tribe is a wealth of online gardening classes in the form of gorgeously produced videos and downloadable material featuring step-by-step, intensive instructions from (literal) experts in the field.
Feast your eyes on classes like “Edibles in Containers” with Johanna Silver of Sunset magazine, “Grafting Demystified” with John Valenzuela of Cornucopia Food Forest Gardens, “Vertical Gardens” with Daniel Nolan of Flora Grubb Gardens and “Slow Flowers” with Debra Prinzing of slowflowers.com. Each class is made up of multiple streaming HD video lessons tackling different aspects of the craft (for example, tools and supplies, technique…), and costs $39. Run times tend to range from 45 to 75 minutes.
We can’t think of a better gift to give someone this spring.
And starting Monday April 6, Garden Tribe kicks off its free boot camp: 21 Days to Growing Your Own Food. After this three-week email tutorial, GT says “you’ll feel like a confident shovel-wielding, seed-starting, crop-harvesting pro.”
Did we mention they were recently featured in The New York Times? Over email, we caught up with Garden Tribe’s Bay Area-based founders Jen Long and Beth LaDove, who sum up the human/horticulture connection wonderfully. “People are hard-wired to garden,” they say. “Our classes inspire you to get out into the garden and get going. When people tap into this circuit, we see a deep joy emerge instantly.”
Below, we talk about “laying the groundwork” for gardening success, and the one trait their legend-in-the-industry instructors have in common.
What inspired you and Beth to found Garden Tribe?
As lifelong gardeners we saw the need.
We met through our local Master Gardeners organization, and as we worked on projects together it became clear we had a mission to fulfill. We were getting questions all the time about how and when people should do things in their garden. And we knew that the best way to answer those questions was by literally showing people what to do.
We decided to create compelling video classes with experts demonstrating real gardening, step-by-step. We set up our classes to stream online, so that learning could happen at home, and on any schedule. And things just took off from there.
What’s the mission of Garden Tribe?
To connect, inspire and empower the next generation of gardeners.
We want to connect everyone in our tribe — from people who are terrified of gardening to our most accomplished experts — to the beauty and relevance of gardening in today’s world.
People are hard-wired to garden. Our classes inspire you to get out into the garden and get going. When people tap into this circuit, we see a deep joy emerge instantly.
Experts showing how to do things the right way, the first time, empowers people and lays the groundwork for success.
Did you grow up among plants? What’s your garden like today, and what do you grow?
Jen Long: I have always been in love with plants. Most of my early pictures feature me with whatever flowers I could get my hands on. These days I travel and work a lot, so I’ve created a balcony garden that is simple and, more importantly, relatively self-sustaining.
I grow all sorts of succulents, and I keep an earth-box container herb garden since I love to cook. I recently added a hummingbird feeder — keeping these little birds zooming around adds a touch of magic to the space.
Beth LaDove: Yes! I grew up as a third-generation urban gardener in San Francisco. For years my garden philosophy was “if you can’t eat it why would you want to grow it?”
These days I’m fortunate to have a large suburban “micro-farm.” I’ve never met a crop I didn’t want to grow — from artichokes to zucchetta rampicante (with obsessive detours into everything from winter wheat to collections of raspberries and blueberries).
What’s been a memorable takeaway from all these classes so far?
We feel so privileged to be working with our teachers. In many cases, we are meeting and filming people whose work we have followed for years (if not decades). Robin Stockwell, Debra Prinzing, Michael Alliger—these people are legends in the horticulture world.
What we’ve found as we’ve gotten to know them better is one common trait: they keep learning and experimenting. They make mistakes and have terrible failures, just like us. But that’s whatkeeps their work more fresh and relevant than ever.
Best tips you’ve gotten since starting Garden Tribe?
1. Be experimental.
2. Start small.
3. Practice strategic patience.
‘Strategic patience’? Let’s unpack that.
In short, just knowing how to wait for the moment to reveal itself, and trusting that things come together when the timing is right.
What reactions have you been receiving about Garden Tribe?
We always love to hear where our students come from, why they take our classes, and what they do next.
We’ve been surprised to have international students in our first year. We’ve also been excited to have both amateurs and gardening professionals taking our classes.
We treasure the stories and pictures that come back to us from our students. We just found out that one of our first students actually used our classes as a jumping off point to start her own garden-related business!
Benefits (emotional, physical, mental and beyond!) of gardening?
Getting into the garden, even for a few minutes, is re-centering. Getting a little sunshine, harvesting some lemons for a drink, taking a minute to wonder at the unexpected volunteer flower…These are simple and free pleasures, that are more needed than ever in today’s online world.
Benefits of learning better gardening?
Learning the basics of gardening means that you can actually enjoy gardening, year round, no matter where you live.
We see a lot of people who randomly do stuff once a year in spring and spend the rest of the year wondering why their plants died, and feeling vaguely guilty and ashamed of their yards.
Our goal is to end that cycle…We promise, it really doesn’t have to be so hard.
Tell us about Boot Camp!
Boot Camp is a free program we’re doing this spring to get people growing their own food.
It’s 21 days, 21 lessons to growing food at home. Whether you have a balcony or small farm, our daily lessons will walk you through the basics of what you really need to know. In just three weeks, you’ll feel like a confident shovel-wielding, seed-starting, crop-harvesting pro.
It all starts April 6. People can sign up on our website at: www.gardentribe.com/boot-camp. Come join us!
What’s next for Garden Tribe?
More classes and more good times, online and off. We’re continuing to experiment with ways to connect the dots for gardeners, online and in the real world.
[In March we launched] our first series of live events—80 free talks by extraordinary horticulture experts, over five days at the SF Garden Show.