Garden pros offer sage advice

Starting a garden for the first time may seem daunting, but it can also be a therapeutic pastime for those staying at home and looking for something new to do.

“The number one thing is to not worry about failure,” Master Gardener Jim Peskuric advised.

The Coupeville resident recommended paying attention to the type of soil and the amount of sun exposure. Whidbey’s geographical history of glaciation means it is not unusual to find 12-14 inches of topsoil. Composting with organic material can help prepare the soil.

After the danger of frost, which is usually mid-May, is the best time to start planting. Peskuric said veggies should be on the south side of the house where it’s warm in the sun.

Living in the rainshadow, Peskuric has found lavender to be a successful crop. He added that May is a good time to plant vegetables such as beets, leaf lettuce, peas, radishes, potatoes and spinach. Towards the end of the month when the soil is warmer, tomatoes, squashes and peppers can be planted.

“Sometimes, certain plants won’t work,” Peskuric said. “So you just try something different.”

He suggested avoiding planting non-native plants that are invasive, such as English laurel, ivy and Himalayan blackberry.

Deer can pose another challenge to a blooming garden. A fence or barrier can be put around the garden, crops can be relocated to pots on a deck or another philosophy is to just plant a lot of something and let the deer have some of it, Peskuric said.

Gary Ingram, South Whidbey Tilth president and Greenbank resident, agreed that pests can be a bother to a garden.

“Our biggest problem is voles and chipmunks, but we found a solution for that,” he said.

By leaving out a jar of sunflower seeds, the critters decided they liked that better and left the garden alone.

Ingram said he never walks on his soil, and treats it with uncomposted manure from his farm animals and well matured compost. He advises against using any sort of pesticide.

Scarlet runner beans are a favorite of his to plant. Originally from England, the beans do well in Northwest Washington, which has a similar climate to their place of origin.

“They’re real pretty, and they attract hummingbirds,” Ingram said about the ornamental crop.

And for Whidbey residents surrounded by tall trees, there are certain plants that will survive in the partial sunlight. Ingram recommends apple trees and veggies such as kale, lettuce and collard greens.

He cites the book “Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest” as being a helpful guide to planting in the shade.

Peskuric will be hosting a Zoom plant clinic in partnership with the Sno-Isle Libraries on the first and third Saturdays of May and June.

Spring has certainly sprung, and with it weeds may be sprouting in the garden too.

But despite their annoying presence, some can make a delicious salad or stir-fry.

“So much of what’s around us is edible,” said Marianne Edain, a botanist and restoration ecologist of Whidbey Environmental Action Network.

Edain has been foraging since she was a kid for edible plant matter.

“I consider it recycling,” she said with a laugh.

Around this time of year, French sorrel, archangel and shotweed can all be plucked from the garden.

“The wild stuff tends to have a sharper or more bitter or intense flavor, and it’s more work,” Edain said.

More recognizable weeds, such as dandelions and stinging nettles, also have their merits as food.

Plants, like people, live in communities, and she has been studying these for several years. The Clinton resident hopes to have a plant safety guide written eventually, but for now, she advises people interested in foraging to do a quick Google search or get a book about edible plants.

“It’s something everybody ought to know,” Edain said.