How Does Your Garden Grow:

Gardening Tips For Thumbs of All Colors

Pink poppies

Oh Spring, I could write you an epic love letter. This is my favorite season and, I believe, one of the best times to be outside in Oklahoma. The energy of spring is Yes! And Now! A time for ripe beginnings, new perspective and can-do spirit. This is the unfurling of the flower petals time of year. In the beginning of spring, we celebrate those early spring buds bursting forth with a riot of color and sticky yellow pollen. In the later spring, we get to feel the fullness of trees thick with new leaves and garden beds that were once barren filled to the brim with berry and flower. The birds burst into song around every corner and spend their days repairing or rebuilding and tidying nests, preparing for this harbinger of new life. There is a zest in the air in spring that gets people outside like no other season. I even see the tired, elderly neighbors on my street in front of their homes, pulling weeds from their Bermuda lawns and trimming the hedges that grow around their front porches.

Planting strawberries

As a gardener, I am forever hopeful. Maybe this year I can get the strawberries to produce enough that I’ll have a chance to eat them before the pill bugs and birds get them. Maybe if I move this crop to a new location it will yield even more. Each seed I plant in the earth with a young person during Under The Canopy nature class I see as one more hopeful step towards recovering our bee population and learning how food gets from the earth to our tables. Similar to learning letters and numbers to translate ideas, I believe the growing of food with young people is essential to their development as a person. Knowing what it takes for a seed to become a full-grown plant, something we can then prepare into a meal, is an inspiring and empowering act. The children that know where food comes from and how to grow it are equipped with the skills of sustainability that can translate to a lifetime of healthy living. This includes nutrition, healthy environments, scientific principals and grit.

Planting seeds

Most parents realize this is true but often don’t take the time to learn and teach this essential skill to their children. Parents are daunted by the multi-level task of caring for a garden, they don’t want to spend too much money and are disappointed when what they create doesn’t work out. Too many empty starter pots, too many diseases stunting the plant in its early life can lead to frustration and then giving up. It is easier to give up and call yourself a black thumb than to keep up that hopefulness that makes one keep asking, What if? What if I tried a different spot? What if I spent time looking up why that disease devastated that crop and what I can do about it?

Luckily there are many local resources for parents to take advantage of learning about gardening. Tulsa Master Gardeners offers all kinds of affordable classes from raising the perfect tomatoes to how better to mulch your trees and building a pollinator-friendly garden. Groggs Green Barn Plant Nursery sells organic and local plants and offers classes from making worm bins, raising backyard chickens and herbal mixology.

At Under The Canopy, my focus is on teaching young people this essential life skill. I see growing food as a major form of teaching sustainability. Growing a garden that becomes a habitat and sanctuary for many living creatures to enjoy. I also like to teach what to do with the food once it is harvested. In my Cooking with Nature Class, we use some local ingredients to craft healthy and yummy meals to enjoy together. There is nothing like picking a vegetable that you grew yourself and making it into a meal to eat with your friends to get even the pickiest eater to munch on some vegetables.

Making pickle brine

Last year we did a Farm To Table Camp (See article in Tulsa Kids Blog Archives August 2018) where we used local produce to come up with family recipes and made a big Farm To Table Feast by the end of camp. This year we will be exploring the world of cooking during pioneer times. In “Little Camp on The Prairie” (two Sessions, June 24th-28th & July 1st-5th), we will be examining how pioneers cooked from the perspective of the Little House on The Prairie books. This will include pickling, preserving and learning about the wild and cultivated herbs that grow in the woods and woodland gardens on the Hope Hill nature preserve in south Tulsa.

Picking greens on the farm

My hope with these classes and camps is to inspire young people and their families to be ever-hopeful gardeners, to appreciate the wild things growing next to cultivated spaces and to see gardening as a chance to connect with each other and the earth in a more meaningful way. In a society that is trending upward toward a more sustainable way of being, this is another step in the right direction toward a future that includes children leading the way as ever-hopeful gardeners.


Under The Canopy’s Top Tips For Starting a Garden

  1. Start the process with low stakes. Container Gardening is an easy and affordable way to care for plants and not have to use a lot of sod-ripping strength to get started. You can purchase containers from any big box or small garden nursery supply store. They come in all shapes and sizes, just make sure you choose ones with drainage holes on the bottom.
  2. Buy plant starts from a reliably good source such as Stringers Nursery. Look for healthy plants that are not in their peak bloom or fruiting. Most plant nurseries know people want to buy plants that you can just stick in the ground, already full of flowers or fruit. Don’t be fooled. The best plants to buy are the ones that are on their way to flowering but aren’t there yet. The plant will deal better with the shock of a new environment when it is not already in its fruiting and flowering stage.
  3. Keep a garden journal of what you grew and where. Track the plants that did well and the plants that did not do well to better understand how to care for them in the future. Plants like different environments and where you are growing them can change greatly your success or failure.
  4. Add compost and fertilizer when you plant and continue fertilizing throughout the growing season with organic fertilizers! A local source for healthy, happy compost is Full Sun Compost; you can get it at the Farmers Market.
  5. Bring to mind the basics: Plants need water, food, and sunlight to grow; keep all these in mind when you choose your pots and where to locate them. Plants in containers need sunlight to grow, but too much hot Oklahoma sun can also scorch them, especially when someone forgets to water.  An ideal location is where your plants will get half sun and half shade.
  6. Remember to have fun! Gardens are beautiful, hopeful living things that remind us of the good life. Pick plants that delight your eyes and tickle your soul. Happy Gardening!

Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997. She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy LLC. She is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek. You can learn more about the programs she teaches at She is a regular contributor to and also keeps a personal blog about parenting in all its real and messy forms She was also published in Hilary Frank’s 2019 book, “Weird Parenting Wins.”

Categories: Guest Blog