Spring is the ultimate reset: what other season offers the killer combo of the Maypole dance, light Jean jacket thugs, and cherry blossom frolic? That’s when all the introverted cottagecore girls end their hibernation to flirt at the hardware store, and the flowers start to bloom alongside plastic bags stuck in ginkgo trees. And this year, we’re all going to our fire escape/patio/arid backyard to develop our own version of Bio-Dome.
It doesn’t matter that we know how to care for plants and all the essential gardening tools you need to get started. This is where plant whisperers such as Alessandro Vitale and Brian Briganti come in – these self-taught gardeners have both amassed over a million followers each on TikTok for their dependable and sustainable approach to growing everything from sunflowers for the best beginner’s plants. Luckily for us, they were there to discuss some of the best practices, tools, and techniques for starting your own spring garden.
“I didn’t garden a day in my life before moving to Tennessee in 2019,” Brigantti told VICE, “and to be honest with you, it wasn’t even planned when I moved here. But like so many people during the pandemic shutdowns, Brigantti started thinking about bringing more green spaces and local foods into her 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 Briganti assures us that it took a lot of trial and error to get there. “You wouldn’t believe the number of plants I went through to get to where I am now,” he says. “It’s part of the process. If something doesn’t, just throw it in the compost or dig it back into the ground so it can return to Mother Earth.
Vitale shares a similar philosophy of her own garden, which took root in her London backyard. “When I moved here, the first impact with the city was a feeling of chaos [and] a completely different sound from my home town in northern Italy,” he told VICE. “So I decided to create my little corner of nature with my girlfriend where I could detach myself from everyday life, and reconnect with nature.” As a self-identified urban gardener with over seven years of experience, Vitale uniquely understands the intricacies of determining which plants work best in small urban spaces. “[It’s an] incredible feeling,” he says, “opening the door to my grow 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 sharpening your green thumb– but you have to start on the right foot. Both Brigantti and Vitale stress the importance of working with as many recycled and organic materials as possible, and accepting 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 leaks,” Vitale says of reuse, while Brigantti says learning to really work with nature will be a game-changer. “For example, rather than spraying pesticides against aphids,” he says, “you can either plant herbaceous plants that can repel them, or make an all-natural repellent using oranges.” Talk to your local plant store and garden center employees to find a handful of plants that will work together, be honest about the kind of light your space gets, and research as much of the soil health in your area– and, of course, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
Whether you’re starting with zero tools and gardening know-how or craving some fresh, seasoned opinions on better tillage this spring, here are some of Vitale and Brigantti’s top tips and essential gardening tools. to transform everything from sprawling backyards to cozy fire escapes in your own gardens of Babylon.
Essential gardening tools
“We’re in the middle of garden season here in Tennessee,” says Brigantti, “and the tools and products I absolutely need right now are my edge shears, [a] trowel, [and a] pickaxe.” The right shears can help get those hard-to-reach spaces on your plants, while a trowel and pickax can help repot and break through tough soil and roots, respectively.
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The Biggest Must-Have Gardening Tools
“[A] spade, pitchfork, wheelbarrow, [and] a long garden hose without a kink” are some of the greatest tools suggested by Brigantti, especially if you are working with larger flower beds and planting spaces. The WORX wheelbarrow is garnering a cult following following Amazon, where it has over 5,000 reviews and a 4.5-star rating for its ability to double as a cart. “The truth is, this little cart is awesome and I was even able to hang it on the wall [at home]“says a fan on Amazon.
A spade is a great tool for removing weeds from your garden and loosening the soil for better aeration, and a nice long hose will save you from having to go back and forth endlessly to fill your watering can.
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Seed boxes are worth it
“When I plant seeds, I also use a sturdy seed tray,” says Vitale. “I know it’s plastic, but you buy it once, and it lasts forever rather than having a flimsy one that will go to waste after a few seasons.”
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Your favorite high quality seeds
“Some easy growers that have a huge impact in my large garden would have to be sunflowers, peppers and loofah squash,” says Brigantti. “Like the sponges we get from the store; they actually come from plants.”
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Brigantti adds, “Let me warn you though, they grow wild! They easily invade a garden, so I suggest giving them a trellis so they can grow vertically.
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Tips and tools for a minimal excavation method
“I am a no-dig gardener, meaning I follow a method that involves no digging (except in rare cases) and minimal disturbance to my soil so as not to disturb macro activities and microorganisms,” says Vitale. “However, I use copper tools as they slowly release microelements to feed plants and repel slugs and snails like my trowel, which is great for slicing through soil and moving it to slide into a plant, with minimal of disturbances.
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Vitale also recommends a dibber, which “helps quickly plant a raised bed or an entire medium-sized garden, with minimal effort.”
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Did you know Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” was (maybe) written about environmentally friendly soil and fertilizer options? Fertilizer is so important when starting a garden because it is literally the foundation of your plants. “[I absolutely need] organic fertilizer,” says Briganti, “[and] worm castings (LOTS) and compost (LOTS). Now we know what compost is—we’re not absolute freaks—but worm castings were new to us, and it turns out they’re pretty punk rock. Basically, these are lumps of soil that have been shed by earthworms, and they’re wonders when it comes to keeping your soil healthy and airy.
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Those thumbs already look greener.
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