Alice Vincent didn't really care about plants until she looked up one day and realized they were missing. "I grew up surrounded by gardening, but never expressed that much of an interest until I moved into a flat that had a balcony with a beautiful view of the London skyline, but no plants," says the writer, who is based there.
"I started with two favorites, lavender and rosemary, and swiftly became hooked by the joy of growing things in my home." To the good fortune of our own potted plants, she's decided to share some of her wisdom in her new—and aptly titled—book, How to Grow Stuff.
Vincent says the most common misconceptions about gardening are that it's 1) complicated, 2) boring, and 3) for old people. To help fight the first fallacy, she suggests starting with something easy, like geraniums. "They're forgiving," she explains. "They bloom for months, their leaves smell incredible, and they're cheap."
As for the number one mistake made in gardening? Overwatering. "If in doubt, touch the soil," recommends Vincent. "Most outdoor plants only need a drink after the top soil has dried out. If it feels moist or wet, you don't need to water it again."
And now, five of Vincent's essential tips for nurturing your own happy plants.
Tip No. 1: Learn by Doing
"Even if you're not quite sure how to look after something, give it a go—you'll pick it up in the process! I've bought so many plants simply because I think they look beautiful, and only worked out how to keep them alive and flourishing once I got them home. Sometimes doing things and just cracking on can be the best way to learn."
Tip No. 2: Ask Yourself, "Why?"
"If you don't know where to start, think about what kind of plant you would love to grow: Do you want to eat it or admire it? Keep it inside the house or out? I once grew loads of chard only to realize, once it was there, that I didn't really eat chard that much. I could have used that space to grow some winter greens I actually liked! Once you work out what you want from your growing space, you'll find knowing what to grow comes far more easily."
Tip No. 3: Find your Plant Soul Mate
"You'll be amazed how quickly you'll get addicted to growing stuff once you find a plant that works for you. There's a therapeutic kick to gardening that can be incredibly rewarding. Watching something grow from a tiny seed to a full-blown plant might even persuade you to abandon your smartphone for a few hours. (The dirt all over your hands will help, too.)"
Tip No. 3: Start Small—But Not Too Small
"Start with tiny plants rather than seeds: they're tougher to kill and will help build your confidence. Growing from seeds is satisfying but can be daunting and frustrating if you're new to the growing game, so begin with little sprouts and they'll reward you in kind."
Tip No. 3: The Internet Is Your Friend
"When in doubt, Google. This may come as a surprise, but there are just as many brilliant videos on YouTube for gardening as there are for makeup tutorials and guitar lessons."
How to Grow Stuff by Alice Vincent (Ebury Press), $12, amazon.com.