Mt Cuba Center
Mt Cuba Center
Back to News Learnings – June 17, 2020


Garden Naturally with Daryl Beyers

With summer gardens already blooming, many gardeners are searching for ways to grow bigger and better plants. That knowledge sometimes comes from hands-on experience and other times it comes in the form of helpful tips from someone who’s already been there. Daryl Beyers, author of “The New Gardener’s Handbook,” believes garden knowledge comes from conversations, not necessarily lectures.

An image of Daryl Beyers' new book.

Join Mt. Cuba for an online class on Tuesday, June 23 from 10 to 1130 am as Beyers highlights the principles outlined in his recently published book that illustrate the best ways to garden in harmony with nature. Tickets are available to attend. Taking the approach of teaching you what to do and why, he emphasizes the importance of healthy soil, better ways to compost, how to sow seeds, and proper maintenance, watering, and weeding techniques.

We sat down with Beyers to find out more about what new gardeners need to know and what they can expect to learn from his class.

Mt. Cuba Center: To start, we’re wondering what the most common question you get from new gardeners is? And what’s your response?  

Daryl Beyers: I think the most common question I received was more of a theme, rather than a specific query. That theme was a call for permission and encouragement. New gardeners, most importantly, want to succeed. They want to enjoy gardening, because…well, let’s admit it, gardening looks like fun. You make your own food, you grow pretty flowers, you plant a beautiful tree. So, my response has always been to give new gardeners permission to fail. We learn by failing in all walks of life, and gardening is no different. Every new plant we grow is an experiment, a trial of sorts. Sometimes we get everything right and succeed spectacularly. Sometimes we fail. In both instances we have learned something and most importantly, become a better gardener in the process. 

Mt. Cuba Center: What piece of advice would you give to anyone who’s thinking about starting a garden?

Daryl Beyers: Start with the soil (this is also the title of my favorite soil science book by Grace Gershuny) and start small. It takes time to improve or prepare your soil, so it can take time to build a beautiful garden. Back when I was a garden magazine editor, we wouldn’t even consider a garden ready for the publication unless it was at least 15 years in the making. It takes time for a garden to mature and come into its own, especially ornamental plantings, so be patient. Get to work and wait for it. That said, your first efforts MUST go into the land. The soil is the foundation upon which all gardens grow, so prepare it first. Amend it, enrich it, improve it as best you can before you start to plant. 

Mt. Cuba Center: How can gardeners begin to create healthy soil?

Daryl Beyers: Compost! Compost! Compost! The key to a healthy, LIVING soil, is organic matter, and compost is organic matter. I use the terms compost, organic matter, and humus, interchangeably. They are the living ingredient that improves your soil structure, increases its water-holding ability, and its fertility. Compost is key! It takes time to improve your soil and bring it back to life if it has been neglected, contaminated, or treated with harsh chemicals. At the start you can loosen the soil with a rototiller or garden fork and mix compost/humus/organic matter directly into it, but after that you shouldn’t turn the soil again. Doing so will disrupt the living organisms in it, and you want those to thrive. So instead we top dress with an inch or two of compost every spring and, in time, your soil will come back to life. 

Mt. Cuba Center: What should new gardeners look for when selecting plants for their space?

Daryl Beyers: “Right Plant, Right Place” is a popular mantra worth following when it comes to choosing plants for your garden. But how do you do that? I break it down into four main considerations: The Purpose of the Plant; Hardiness Zone; Sun Exposure, and Soil. If you match your plant to those four criteria, not only should it grow successfully in your garden, but it will be the plant you want as well. Ultimately, I think the best advice is to grow what you want, and what you love. 

Mt. Cuba Center: Is there anything else people considering signing up for your class should know?

Daryl Beyers: Be ready to learn a lot and have some fun. My gardening classes aren’t lectures, they are conversations. Yes, I have a lot of information I want to present, a lot of good gardening science, tips, and tricks, but I want to hear from the students as well. It’s important to realize that I teach the “Why-dos of the How-tos.” I won’t simply tell you what to do in your garden and leave it at that. I’ll explain WHY we do what we do. How it works and the horticultural and botanical science behind good gardening. My goal is to turn my students into gardeners that think and do. When you garden like that it’s twice as fun and much more rewarding! 

Register for Daryl Beyers Garden Naturally class on Tuesday, June 23 from 10 to 1130 am.