January Checklist:

  Gardening with a Theme


January is the month when winter daydreams become concrete plans. Garden tasks this month are minimal: a bit of tidying around the yard, some mending of fences, monitoring plants for winter damage, and feeding the birds. Indoors, we begin sketching garden maps, sharpening neglected tools, organizing our seed inventory, and flipping through the latest seed catalogs for ideas.

Without a plan, though, January daydreams can lead us astray. It’s almost cruel how seed catalogs arrive in the dead of winter, when we are most sun-starved. Seduced by glossy photos with succulent tomatoes, fragrant herbs, and vibrant petals, a kind of vitamin D deficient mania sets in, and we end up purchasing seeds willy-nilly, assuming–usually incorrectly–that a plan will come together in the end.

A garden theme, on the other hand, is an excellent way to channel winter passions into summertime realities. As Orson Welles once said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations”; in this sense, a garden theme reins in conflicting impulses, provides focus, and stimulates creativity–resulting in a garden you can feel proud of.

Edible landscape design with borage, sage, and dianthus.

A wildlife friendly garden for butterflies, birds, and bees.


Before you pick a theme, pause to draw a garden map—even just a very rough sketch. Understanding the sun, shade, and space limitations of the garden will allow you to pick a theme that makes the most sense. For more advice on garden mapping, read this post.

Make your garden theme relevant to you. Hot sauce enthusiasts, for example, might decide to grow a wide variety of hot peppers this year. Homesteaders, on the other hand, will value highly caloric crops like potatoes, sunchokes, and winter squash. Be inventive. A good theme will inspire and motivate. Once you've drawn your garden map and found your theme, you'll be able to create a much more sensible shopping list for both seeds and supplies. 

Seven common garden themes to get started:

The Container Garden
Whether you are limited to a sunny balcony or have a big yard, container gardening is a great way to highlight favorite varieties, avoid competition with weeds, and reduce back strain from garden tasks like digging, tilling, and weeding. Herbs like Watercress, Basil, Chives, Mint, Parsley, Calendula, Chamomile, and Cilantro do especially well in containers. Nasturtium, Pansies, Sweet Pea, Gomphrena, and Strawflower thrive in pots. For vegetables, try: Matchbox Pepper, Mexican Sour Gherkins, Tiny Tim Tomato, Tom Thumb Peas, Danvers Carrot, Tokyo Market Turnip, or any Lettuce Mix. Read more about container gardening here. Find our recycled textile containers here.

The Shady Vegetable Garden
If you’ve got a shady situation but want to grow vegetables, you’re in luck: a garden with 4-6 hours of sun can still produce a hefty harvest of leafy greens and root vegetables. Lettuce, Asian Greens, Chard, Kale, Collards, and Spinach will do just fine, not to mention brassicas like Broccoli, Kohlrabi, and Cabbage. Turn to Potatoes, Beets, Carrots, Turnips, and Radishes for shade-tolerant root crops. Read more about shade gardening here.

The Wildlife Friendly Garden
To help pollinators this year, plant a variety of species, including lots of flowers and herbs. Staggered bloom times will help to sustain healthy populations of wild bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects throughout the growing season. Try Good Bug Blooms, Pollinator Petal Patch, or one of our Wildflower Seed Shakers to get started. Milkweed and Butterfly Weed will support monarchs and other butterflies, while Bird Lover’s Mix and For the Birds will both provide lots of nutritious seed for avian friends. Read more about gardening for pollinators here.

The Edible Landscape
Why sacrifice beauty for utility when you can have both? An edible landscape uses color contrast, succession sowing, and edible flowers to freely integrate annuals, perennials, and vegetables. Some favorites for the edible landscape are: Red Swan Bean, Rainbow Tatsoi, Merlot Lettuce, Lemon Cucumber, and Phoenix Nasturtium. Find lots of edible flowers to choose from here. To read more about edible landscaping, read this post.

The Moon Garden
A moon garden features night-blooming varieties that fill the evening air with fragrance and glow in the pale moonlight. To create your own moon garden, start with Moon Flower, Purple Perfume Nicotiana, Lavender Cloud Nicotiana, and Midnight Garden Mix. Read our post Night Life in the Garden to learn more.

The Cutting Garden
A cutting garden focuses on flowers with sturdy stems that draw up water in vase arrangements and hold up well in bouquets. Include a diversity of blooms in your plan: big bold flowers like Dahlias, Sunflowers, and Zinnias; spiky blooms like Snapdragons and Blazing Star; fillers like Lacy Phacelia and Celosia; and flowers that dry well like Gomphrena, Strawflower, and Everlasting Flower Mix. Our Cut Flower Garden Boxed Seed Collection is another good place to start. To read more about growing a cutting garden, visit this post.

The Seed Saver's Garden  
Part of our mission as a seed company is to sell only open-pollinated (OP) seeds, in part because open-pollinated seeds can be easily saved, stored, and re-sowed year after year and still grow true-to-type. Open pollinated seeds ensure greater access to seeds, more food security, and more food sovereignty. If you want to begin saving your own open-pollinated seeds but are not sure where to begin, read this post on Ten Seeds to Save Yourself This Season.

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