Karen E Laine’s Tips For Starting a Garden

The green thumb on HGTV’s hit show Good Bones, went solo last fall with a spinoff pilot, Good Bones: Better Yard. Her well-considered step-by-step guide for beginners focuses more on “reality” than “TV.”

First, dream. What does your perfect garden look like? Feel like? Smell like? Let your mind wander, and take notes.

Measure your space. What do you have to work with? If your space doesn’t match your dream, return to step one and conjure up a new dream.

Think. What help do you need? What resources? Laine assures that most gardening center staff is happy to give advice.

Observe. Before you look at a seed catalog or take a hosta from your mother, sit in your yard and observe the windiness, the sun pattern, spots where moisture gathers, and critter traffic. “Different plants like different things,” Laine says. “I put two lavender plants next to each other in full sun. One died and one lived. I failed to observe that one would get all the runoff from a pond.”

Start small. “If you start too big, you’ll feel frustrated and fail. If you start small, you’ll succeed and want more,” Laine says. And then map it out. Decide where you will put things based on sun exposure, drainage, and the quality of soil and compost. Decide if you will do a raised bed, pots, or traditional plots.

Choose plants. Finally, the fun part. But where do you start? Laine recommends asking friends and neighbors for seeds. “People who grow tomatoes they love are seed-savers,” she says. And most plants sold in stores are just fine, in her experience.

Find an advisor. Laine recommends going to a few different nurseries and asking staff for their specialties, particularly if you have your heart set on a certain variety, like peonies. “You’re looking for information you can digest,” Laine says. “If they’re talking over your head or talking to you like you’re an idiot, it’s not the right place for you.”

Take your time. There’s no rush.

Breathe. “You can do this,” Laine says. “Google what grows well in Central Indiana. Find a master-gardening club, and ask the members your questions.” Plus, Laine speaks of microbes in soil that are said to promote happiness when you breathe them in. So literally take a deep breath, too!

Take joy in everything you’ve done. “Even just the dreaming. That’s beautiful,” Laine says.

Help and Learn: Local organizations welcome volunteers in their gardens and greenspaces.

Growing Places Indy accommodates volunteers to weed, seed, harvest crops, clear debris, and more from April through October. They’ll work around your schedule and availability. No gardening experience is required, only enthusiasm. Sign up for three-hour shifts at

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail provides tools and a quick orientation before Landscaping and Lagers on Tuesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. through the summer season, giving participants a chance to mulch beds, clean out planters, and socialize. Join in as many or as few times as you like. For info, visit indyculturaltrail.org.

Get to work with a view of the downtown Indianapolis skyline by registering for open volunteer sessions in the IUPUI Urban Gardens. You might harvest vegetables, plant a tree, or do a food-waste audit. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to take home some of the yummy fresh produce. Register at sustainability.iupui.edu.

Individuals, corporate groups, and harvest teams can pitch in at Indy Urban Acres on a variety of projects, immersing themselves in working farm operations. The organization gets organic produce into the hands of local families. Learn more about hands-on volunteer
opportunities at parks-alliance.org.