Plant Like a Pro: 9 Gardening Influencers Share Their Secrets to Growing Thriving Plants

Kaitlyn Pacheco
Written by Kaitlyn Pacheco
Updated May 13, 2022
A colonial house on a Spring day
Photo: Greg Pease / Stone / Getty Images

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No matter the season, we love to scroll through social media to find aspirational photos of freshly picked flower bouquets and flourishing vegetable gardens. But most home gardeners know that planting the right flowers or produce for your climate zone, experience level, and time commitment is easier said than done.

If you’re a green-thumb gardener or learning how to garden, following gardening influencers on social media is a great way to learn planting tips and gain inspiration for your next outdoor project. To help you dig into the spring-planting zone, we talked with nine online gardening creators, each with their own expertise and experiences, about their gardening philosophies, advice for home gardeners, and love for everything that grows. If you’re ready to start your next planting project, hire a local gardener to help bring your vision to life.

1. Brie Arthur — @brietheplantlady

Brie Arthur
Photo: Courtesy of Brie Arthur

Brie Arthur is a horticulturist living in Raleigh, North Carolina, and she’s the author of books The Foodscape Revolution and Gardening With Grains. She’s worked in many areas of the gardening industry over the past two decades, and now dedicates herself to sharing her experience with home gardeners through her YouTube channel, Brie the Plant Lady.

What's your gardening philosophy? 

My basic gardening philosophy is simple: Grow what you love! Flowers and food deserve a spot in your garden! My aim is to encourage everyone to grow at least one thing they eat right alongside the ornamental plants in their landscapes.

What advice do you have for people interested in growing their own food for the first time?

Make a list of the meals you have prepared at home and find two or three veggies that occur over and over. For me, that is garlic, onions, and potatoes. Then, figure out where you can grow those crops and plant a lot! That way, you will have a big harvest, and it will translate to a change in your shopping habits. Then it starts to feel like what you are doing is making a difference! 

Why do you think it's important for people to grow at least a small portion of their own food?

The reality is that every product at the grocery store has food miles attached, meaning the distance it traveled to become available to the consumer. This statistic keeps growing! As of 2022, it was 1,500 miles per fresh product. The way I see it, every time I go to my garden to harvest something instead of buying it at the store, it helps reduce that food mileage. And if everyone did that for just one crop, it would be super impactful! What type of veggie garden setup do you see working best for people? First, always use what you have and make it easy for yourself. Know that most vegetables need more sun than shade and regular watering, so put them in a convenient location. I always start with the landscape beds that are closest to the house. Containers and raised beds also offer great opportunities. The main thing to achieve with any kind of gardening, especially with veggies, is to make it convenient for your lifestyle. Then, you will always find pleasure in the activity. 

2. Benjamin Vogt — @monarchgardensbenjaminvogt

Benjamin Vogt
Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Vogt

Benjamin Yogt is the owner of Monarch Gardens, a prairie-inspired design firm based in Nebraska. He’s also the author of books A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future, and Prairie Up: An Introduction to Natural Garden Design.

What's your gardening philosophy?

In a time of climate change and mass extinction, we have an ethical calling to plant for other species and revive nature where we live, work, and play. Native plants and natural plant communities are critical for providing a plethora of ecosystem services, such as reducing runoff, cleaning soil and air, as well as providing habitat to various insects, bugs, spiders, and birds.

What do you hope to impart to others about gardening?

That gardening for other species is empowering and liberating. Gardening with nature instead of against it means less wood mulch, less watering, and less fertilizer, which in turn means we are more free to enjoy the garden and to learn from the wildlife that use it. 

What's your favorite plant in your garden right now, and why?

I have 500 favorite native plants. But anything in the Asteraceae family is good because of the larval support that group gives, as well as adult pollinators that come to feed on the nectar and pollen. 

What's the best way for someone to decide what to plant? 

There's a gardening adage: Dig a $10 hole for a $1 plant. Here's a new one: Spend 10 minutes researching a plant before buying it. Match the plant to the current site conditions (no need to change the site) and to other nearby plants.

3. Erin Schanen — @impatientgardener

Erin Schanen
Photo: Courtesy of Erin Schanen

Erin Schanen started her successful blog The Impatient Gardener in 2009, and has since expanded her gardening content to YouTube and other social media platforms.

What do you hope to impart to others about gardening?

I aim to provide inspiration and education for real-life gardeners, like people who probably don’t have help in the garden, a lot of extra time, or the means to hire a garden designer. I want to help them discover the kind of garden they desire and then offer information to help them achieve that. 

Part of that process is that things go wrong, plants die, trees fall down and necessitate a redesign of a garden, but all of that is part of the learning process and certainly part of the fun. Digging in the dirt and creating your own garden can be incredibly enriching and rewarding.

If you had one piece of advice to give to gardeners, what would it be?

Stop worrying about making mistakes; they are bound to happen and you'll be a better gardener in the end. Do your research but don't get bogged down in minutiae. Gardening is supposed to be fun, so have fun and the rest will come.

So many people have discovered the joy of growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Few things are more rewarding than planting a seed and then eating what it produces on your own table a few months later.

The naturalistic plant movement has changed the way we think of gardens, making us realize that how a plant looks in winter is as important as how it looks in summer and that gardens are for the ecosystem and wildlife as much as they are for our own pleasure. This is a slow-moving shift, but each year it takes hold more. Thanks to the beautiful photos we see on social media, the world has gone mad for flowers, and more people recognize the pleasure they can bring when you cut a few for the house. Lots of gardeners are now planting a few extra flowers specifically for cutting so they can share in some of the fun.

What’s the best way for someone to decide what to plant?

Start with the basics. How much sun do you have, what's the soil like, what USDA hardiness zone do you live in? Then move to the goal: Are you planting for privacy, to attract pollinators, for color, for a long show of flowers or for all-year interest? The answer may be a combination of several factors. How much maintenance are you willing to do? Once you narrow down those things you can get more specific about structure or color and then choose from a smaller number of plants that fit the criteria.

4. Brooke Bridges — @soulfirefarm

Brooke Bridges
Photo: Courtesy of Soul Fire Farms

Brooke Bridges is the Food Justice Assistant Manager at Soul Fire Farm, which is a Afro-Indigenous centered community in Petersburg, New York. She manages Soul Fire Farm’s social media pages, where you can find details about the farm’s work, program updates, and more.

What's your gardening philosophy?

At Soul Fire Farm, our gardening and farming philosophy is to grow our food using ancestral, afro-indigenous practices of regenerative agriculture. Regenerative Agriculture is a practice that gives back more, or as much, to the land than is being taken. It is our duty as land stewards to tend to the land with intention, gratitude, and accountability. Our ancestral farming practices increase topsoil depth, sequester soil carbon, and increase biodiversity.

What do you hope to impart to others about gardening?

Gardening seems very intimidating at times! We’re taking these tiny little seeds that contain all of the DNA needed to form food-bearing beings, as long as we water them and tend to them throughout a period of time. This can be an intimidating prospect. One thing to remember is that plants wantto grow. That is their true purpose, so don’t overthink it! As long as you are tending to the plant with care and understanding of what the particular plant needs, it will grow. And if it doesn’t, plants give us information about what might be wrong with them based on the way that they look; so as long as we’re mindful and we pay attention, we can figure out what is wrong.

Gardening and growing your own food is also a means of ensuring your future generations’ survival. If we can feed ourselves, we can free ourselves from the constraints of the food system and from relying on others for survival.

What advice do you have for people interested in growing their own food for the first time?

Spend some time at a local community garden. Not only will they appreciate your support, it’s a good way to get your feet wet without committing to building a raised bed in your yard or prepping the soil. It’ll give you a taste of the process while also helping you connect with folks in your community who also enjoy growing their own food. It’ll help you learn a bit more and decide whether or not having a space at your own home is what you want!

Why do you think it's important for people to grow at least a small portion of their own food?

It’s important for us to remember our connection to our food and to understand that it is possible to create our own food system. It reminds us that the folks who are growing our food work so hard, and hopefully will help us find more gratitude for all of the farmworkers’ labor. I think it reminds us how lucky we are to be able to eat the way that we do, and it also reminds us that we have the ancestral knowledge to grow our own food, sustain ourselves, and teach our future generations how to do the same. It’s also important because food that we grow ourselves is going to be more nutrient dense than anything we can buy in the grocery store.

5. Loree Bohl — @thedangergarden

 Loree Bohl
Photo: Courtesy of Loree Bohl

Loree Bohl is a gardener living in Portland, Oregon, and she’s been managing her successful blog Danger Garden since 2009. She’s also the author of Fearless Gardening: Be Bold, Break the Rules, Grow What You Love.

What do you hope to impart to others about gardening?

I think a lot of people are intimidated by gardening, thinking there is a “right way” to do it. It’s really just a big experiment that you get to make up as you go. One of the chapters in my book speaks to the Gardening Commandments—those rules that the experts lay down for the rest of us to follow. I encourage people to listen to that advice, but then filter it through your own experience, location and desires. Take what you want, but toss the rest aside and make up your own rules. 

What's your favorite plant in your garden right now, and why?

You realize that changes by the hour, right? At this moment it’s my Agave 'Baccarat', I just saw it lit up by the morning sunshine; the dark spines at the end of each leaf glowing and the bud prints (impressions made by one leaf on the next when the leaves are pressed together in the center cone of the plant) looking all frosty.

In my part of the world—the West Coast—there is a growing awareness of our changing climate and we’re adjusting our gardening styles accordingly. People are seeking out climate-adapted plants and planting to minimize fire danger, for example. In other parts of the world, I see gardeners rejecting the long-accepted English standard of what a garden should be and embracing an ideal that is better suited to their location and climate.

What's the best way for someone to decide what to plant?

In my book, I advise people to look at what’s growing around them. Take a walk in your neighborhood to see what people with your same growing conditions have been successful with and what you like. Also, ask questions! Gardeners are typically happy to share knowledge and maybe even a cutting from their garden.

6. Ryan Benoit and Chantal Aida Gordon of The Horticult — @thehorticult

Ryan Benoit
Photo: Courtesy of The Horticult
Chantal Aida Gordon
Photo: Courtesy of The Horticult

Ryan Benoit and Chantal Aida Gordon are the co-founders of The Horticult, a gardening lifestyle blog launched in 2013. They’re also the authors of the book How to Window Box, and Ryan (pictured above) is the inventor and owner of SkyPots

What's your gardening philosophy?

If you’re a renter, don’t let that stop you from making your garden your own. Whether you rent or own your home, our overarching philosophy is to bring your personality into the garden. Of course, that means growing plants that excite you (and that agree with your climate and lifestyle), but don’t forget about the inorganic parts of the garden. That could mean painting your fence or retaining wall a cheeky color. Throwing some outdoor rugs down amid your pots. Oh, and don’t forget about lighting—with all the time you spend feeding your flowers, you want to show them off even after the sun goes down and guests come over. 

If you had one piece of advice to give to gardeners, what would it be?

You and the sunlight in your house (or yard) should be on a first-name basis. That is, have a deep understanding of how much sunlight any given area gets every day depending on the season. How much as in: how intense, how dappled, how many hours. And place your plants accordingly. Lack of light is probably the number one plant-killer in the world. There are a growing number of plants available that will survive in the light that you are able to provide.

People are having more fun and letting their hair down in the garden. That means more color, more flowering plants, dark, dark foliage, and filling balconies with plants. Speaking with some bias, we think that SkyPots vertical gardening will be the next big trend since the hanging kits allow small-space gardeners to grow many more plants in a stylish new way by hanging and connecting their everyday pots. We added over 100 new plants in our San Diego garden with SkyPots and they are thriving!

What's the best way for someone to decide what to plant? 

Figure out the light situation in your garden or in your house and figure out if you’re working with full sun, part sun, part shade, bright indirect light, etc. That’ll give you your first round of potential plants to grow. Then ask yourself if you want a plant that you’ll want to water a lot (helicopter plant parenting is a thing) or a plant you can forget about for days or weeks at a time. And if you have pets that like to graze, weed out toxic plants from the list. Then, start planting! 

7. Luay Ghafari — @urbanveggiegarden

 Luay Ghafari
Photo: Courtesy of Luay Ghafari

Luay Ghafari is an urban gardener, garden educator, recipe developer, cook, blogger, and photographer based in Toronto, Canada. He is the founder of Urban Farm and Kitchen, a garden-to-table-focused blog, and the co-founder of the educational teaching platform gardenologie

What's your gardening philosophy?

I'm passionate about the garden-to-table movement, eating seasonally and locally as much as possible. This is my driving force and the basis for most if not all my projects. Homegrown food is harvested at its peak when it's meant to be consumed for maximum flavor and nutritional value.

What advice do you have for people interested in growing their own food for the first time?

Start small. This can be a small tea garden or perhaps container herbs on a balcony or terrace. Social media is so powerful and can bring us together. It can create and foster communities of gardeners and growers. However, it can also create FOMO and push new gardeners to take on too much, which can sometimes lead to less than ideal results. It can also instill feelings of inadequacy which might prevent a new gardener from starting their gardening journey. We all started somewhere. Take your time, learn, appreciate what nature has to offer, and enjoy the journey. 

Why do you think it's important for people to grow at least a small portion of their own food?

Growing food used to be a skill passed down from generation to generation. With industrialization and modernization, humanity became less self-sufficient. As a millennial myself, when I see younger generations express interest in gardening and growing food, it means that I've succeeded in making this important life skill accessible, interesting, and rewarding. Growing a garden teaches us patience. It helps us connect with the world around us, with the soil, the wildlife, and ourselves. 

What type of veggie garden setup do you see working best for people?

Container gardens are excellent for people with limited access to land. They can be used on balconies, paved patios, driveways, roofs, and porches. Raised beds are a great option for anyone with poor soil conditions as they allow gardeners to create a perfect soil mix that will work for them and their climate. 

8. Kelly Wilkniss — @mysoulfulhome

 Kelly Wilkniss
Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Wilkniss

Kelly Wilkniss is the author of the book My Soulful Home ~ A Year in Flowers and the host of the podcast Decorating Tips and Tricks. She also posts gardening videos on her YouTube channel and offers virtual garden and design consults.

What's your gardening philosophy?

I garden with a design and a foundational plan in mind. In choosing plants, I go native whenever possible and I maintain my gardens organically. With a plan and by choosing plants that will naturally thrive in my area, the upkeep and disappointments are minimal. Plants are the best mulch, so I underplant almost all my beds. I leave the garden a bit wild so birds, bees and butterflies and other creatures have a place to stay over winter and food to eat. I don’t control the garden; I simply try to guide it. That being said, sometimes nature has better ideas than even the best gardener.

What do you hope to impart to others about gardening?

That there is no such thing as a “brown thumb.” Everyone can garden and everyone should.  Communing with and caring for nature is joy. So whether you have a container garden or a large estate, get out there and dig in now. You will reap more than you sow; I promise!

What's your favorite plant in your garden right now, and why?

That is like asking to pick your favorite child!  Right now I am enthralled with African Basil. It is a beautiful small leaved basil with stunning lavender blooms on arching stems that bees adore. It is drought tolerant, the leaves add fabulous flavor to my cooking, and in planting it I am helping the pollinators. So, what is not to love about his plant? Oh and, it is usually sold in 4-inch herb pots for under $5 and it can grow into a large bush.  

What's the best way for someone to decide what to plant? 

The right place and the right plant equals success. Every gardener should keep this in mind when choosing what to plant. Learn your zone, pay attention to the amount of sun or shade in the area you want to plant, and consider the amount of effort you want to put in to maintain it.  Then, curate the vast selection of plants using this information. It helps to also have a color palette and design in mind when purchasing plants. It is so easy to have your head turned with all the beauty at the garden center. Decide what to plant with knowledge and a plan.

9. Megan Cain — @creativeveggardener

Megan Cain
Photo: Courtesy of Megan Cain

Megan Cain is a garden educator, speaker, and writer who lives in Madison, Wisconsion. She’s the author of two books, Smart Start Garden Planner and Super Easy Food Preserving, and she offers gardening advice through her business, The Creative Vegetable Gardener

What do you hope to impart to others about gardening?

Elevate your garden.Your garden should be a source of deep beauty and joy, not shoved away in a back corner of your yard. Allow it to be a central part of your landscape. Highlight the clean and natural beauty of the vegetables by adding touches of colorful flowers, simple garden structures, and tasteful art pieces.

Ask for more from your garden. When you miss out on the actual food and satisfaction of gardening, you feel the frustration of seeing no results. Don’t just dabble, embrace gardening as a lifestyle. Dive in and get your hands dirty. Set off on a lifetime adventure of learning and skill building, and you’ll be able to build the garden of your dreams.

Value adventure and variety. The secret to gardening in full color is a curious, independent spirit. Nothing is quite like the thrill of grabbing dinner from your own yard, or the anticipation of discovering something new in your garden each day. Be willing to experiment with new ideas and constantly seek adventure in your own little corner of the world—your garden!

If you had one piece of advice to give to gardeners, what would it be?

Keep it simple.Why over-complicate gardening when there’s a simple solution? Focus on mastering the basics and knowing what you actually need to have a successful garden. After developing your skills you can bring even more pleasure to the gardening experience with the right details and experimentation. Stick to minimal fuss—find the smart and most elegant solution.

What's your favorite plant in your garden right now, and why?

Because gardening is so seasonal, I have different favorites at various times of year. In spring, I love my flowering bulbs, fresh green spinach, and colorful salad mix. In summer, I love all of the bright peppers, tomatoes, and flowers. In fall, I get a kick out of harvesting fresh vegetables in the snow like kale, daikon radishes, and a rainbow of carrots.

Why do you think it's important for people to grow at least a small portion of their own food?

Having a garden allows you to participate in the entire process of growing food—from picking out the seeds to planting, tending, and harvesting. It's really quite a magical and miraculous process to be a part of. You'll get to know your local bioregion better—the weather patterns, how much it rains or doesn't, when the first and last frosts occur, and which animals and insects are a part of your larger environment. And in today's virtual world, there's a deep satisfaction that comes from creating something with your own two hands.

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