"There are several ways to lay out a little garden; the best way is to get a gardener."
This extremely good advice comes from Czech playwright Karel Capek's charming 1929 book The Gardener's Year.
Slate has a guide for the beginning gardener to encourage novices to grow some flowers on their own. But it's much easier learning from an actual helpful human being.
We can all agree that it's pretty sad to look at bare earth in front of or behind your house when it could be pretty and productive. Yet many homeowners fear to begin, worried that plants will die, money will be wasted, and they will be mocked by their neighbors for their pathetic efforts.
There are two excellent and relatively inexpensive cures for this common horticultural neurosis. First, several lucky U.S. cities have new services that will give you an instant backyard vegetable farm.
Second, many cities have a new species of helper—the garden coach—who will do much of the initial hard work and then teach you how to maintain your new ornamental garden.
Both these alternatives are inexpensive compared with hiring a landscape architect who will probably recommend a scheme involving boulders, spectacular nighttime lighting, dramatic beds of many plants of the same beige ornamental grass, and a fire pit or two.
A less expensive and more common solution is to hire a landscaping company. Quality varies, but too often the underpaid crew will roll out the sod, plant a skinny tree in the new lawn, and stick a few evergreens next to the house before rushing on to their next project of the day. Your landscape job won't offend the neighbors, but you won't have much to look at or anything to eat.
These places have a nearly year-round growing season. Seattle and Portland can freeze (right now, Seattle has snow); the deal would be different for Buffalo. As their entertaining video demonstrates, My Farm can put in a vegetable garden in one day. The cost: $500 to $1,800 for the installation, $50 to $250 per week for maintenance. The gardeners come on bikes, one pulling a trailer full of tools up the hills. Gasoline is consumed only by the truck that delivers a mix of compost and topsoil. The service includes a weekly visit for weeding, irrigation, and pest control. The client, if so minded, need never touch the soil: My Farm gardeners will harvest the little garden's vegetables and put them in a box on the doorstep.
The founder of the San Francisco company, Trevor Paque, is a one-man embodiment of our changing economy. He left his job as a mortgage broker to become an urban farm creator. He has plenty of clients with an interest in locally grown food, not to mention fresh arugula for the prosciutto sandwich, lemongrass for the stir-fry, and cilantro for the fajitas—but no experience. The Portland and Seattle companies both have waiting lists. Their cost is about the same. For this, you become the ultimate locavore; your food travels about 25 feet from garden to table, less if you eat outside. All that these superfarmers require from you is a source of water and that some part of your yard have at least six hours of sunlight.
The garden coach, by contrast, will rouse your enthusiasm so that you want to get your hands dirty. It's a jump-start, said Susan Harris, the Takoma Park, Md.-based doyenne of the national movement, for someone who doesn't want to take the time and make the mistakes. A few years ago, there were a handful of people calling themselves garden coaches; now many are getting organized.