Spring is the ultimate reset: What other season offers the killer combo of Maypole dancing, light denim jacket lewks, and cherry blossom frolicking? It’s when all the introverted cottagecore babes end hibernation to flirt at the hardware store, and the flowers begin to bloom alongside plastic bags stuck in ginkgo trees. And this year, we’re going all in on our fire escape/patio/barren backyard to grow our very own version of Bio-Dome.
Never mind the fact that we know bupkis about tending to plants and all of the essential gardening tools you need to get started. That’s where plant whisperers such as Alessandro Vitale and Brian Brigantti come in—these self-taught gardeners have both amassed over a million followers each on TikTok for their relatable and sustainable approach to growing everything from sunflowers to the best beginner’s plants. Lucky for us, they were down to chat about some of the best practices, tools, and techniques for starting your very own spring garden.
“I did not garden a day in my life before moving to Tennessee in 2019,” Brigantti told VICE, “and to be honest with you, that wasn’t even the plan when I moved here.” But like so many people during pandemic lockdowns, Brigantti started to think about bringing more green spaces and homegrown foods into his life. He and his partner now have several acres of diverse plants around their home, from ornamental flowers to food crops.
The setup is impressive, but Brigantti assures us that it took plenty of trial and error to get there. “Y’all wouldn’t believe how many plants I’ve gone through to get to where I am now,” he says. “It’s part of the process. If something doesn’t make it, simply throw it in the compost or dig it back into the soil so it can return to Mother Earth.”
Vitale shares a similar ethos from his own garden, which took root in his London backyard. “When I moved here, the first impact with the city was a feeling of chaos [and] noise that was completely different from my city of origin in North Italy,” he tells VICE. “So I decided to create my small corner of nature with my girlfriend where I could detach from the daily routine, and reconnect with nature.” As a self-identifying urban gardener with over seven years of experience, Vitale especially understands the intricacies of figuring out what plants work best in smaller city spaces. “[It’s an] amazing feeling,” he says, “opening the door of my growing space in the middle of the city and feeling like it’s another reality.”
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from these two, it’s that you don't need much to start honing your green thumb—but you do need to start off on the right foot. Both Brigantti and Vitale stress the importance of working with as many upcycled and organic materials as possible, and embracing the fact that your garden will constantly surprise you. “I used tires, plastic bottles, plastic tanks, [and more] by lining them with another material [to avoid] any chemical leakage,” says Vitale about repurposing, while Brigantti says learning to truly work with nature will be a game-changer. “For example, rather than spraying pesticides for aphids,” he says, “you can either companion plant herbaceous plants that can repel them, or brew an all natural repellant using oranges.” Talk to your local plant shop and garden center employees about finding a handful of plants that will work together, be honest about the kind of light your space receives, and look up as much as you can about the soil health of your area—and, of course, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
Whether you’re starting off with zero tools and gardening know-how or you’re craving some fresh, seasoned opinions for better earth-tilling this spring, here are some of Vitale and Brigantti’s best tips and essential gardening tools for turning everything from sprawling backyards to cozy fire escapes into your very own Gardens of Babylon.
The small, essential gardening tools
“We are in the midst of garden season here in Tennessee,” says Brigantti, “and the tools and products I absolutely need right now are my sharp-edged shears, [a] trowel, [and a] pickaxe.” The right shears can help get those hard-to-reach spaces on your plants, while a trowel and pickaxe can help repot and break through tough earth and roots, respectively.
The bigger essential gardening tools
“[A] spade, pitchfork, wheelbarrow, [and] a long, kink-free watering hose” are some of the larger tools Brigantti suggests, especially if you’re working with larger planting beds and spaces. The WORX wheelbarrow is amassing a cult following on Amazon, where it has over 5,000 reviews and a 4.5-star rating for its ability to double as a dolly. “Truth is folks, this little cart is great and I was even able to hang it on the wall [at home],” says one fan on Amazon.
A spade is an excellent tool for removing weeds from your garden and loosening up soil for better aeration, and a nice long hose will keep you from making endless trips back and forth to fill up your watering can.
Seed trays are worth it
“When planting seeds, I also use a sturdy seed tray,” says Vitale. “I know it’s made of plastic, but you buy it once, and it lasts forever rather than getting a flimsy one that will go in the bin after a couple of seasons.”
Your favorite, high-quality seeds
“Some easy growers that make a massive impact in my big garden would have to be sunflowers, peppers, and luffa gourds,” says Brigantti. “Like the sponges we get from the store; they actually come from plants."
Brigantti adds, "Let me warn you though, they grow wild! They’ll easily take over a garden, so I suggest giving them a trellis so they can grow vertically.”
Tips and tools for a minimal dig method
“I’m a no-dig gardener, which means I apply a method which implies no digging (except in some rare cases) and minimal disturbance of my soil to avoid disrupting the macro and microorganisms activities,” says Vitale. “However, I use copper tools as they slowly release micro-elements to nurture plants and repel slugs and snails like my trowel, ideal for slicing in the soil and moving it to slide in a plant, with minimal disturbance.
Vitale also recommends a dibber, which "helps to quickly plant up a raised bed or an entire average size garden, with minimal effort.”
Did you know that Christina Aguilera’s "Dirrty" was (maybe) written about environmentally-friendly soil and fertilizer options? Fertilizer is just so important when starting a garden, because it’s literally the foundation for your plants. “[I absolutely need] organic fertilizer,” says Brigantti, “[and] worm castings (A LOT), and compost (A LOT).” Now, we know what compost is—we’re not total monsters—but worm castings were news to us, and it turns out they’re pretty punk rock. Basically, they’re masses of soil that were thrown up by earthworms, and they are wonder workers when it comes to keeping your soil healthy and aerated.
Those thumbs are looking greener already.
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