A Lesson in Gardening the Old-Fashioned Way

Including the four plants you need to get started.

Dominique Charles and her okra.
Dominique Charles and her okra. Photo: Courtesy of Dominique Charles

Dominique Charles knows her way around the garden. The founder of Plots & Pans is known as a garden expert, garden consultant, and even chief executive gardener, but she can't have her hands in the dirt without thinking of her grandmother, who she called by one title: Maw Maw.

"I think the biggest lesson she taught me about gardening would be to grow what you love or will actually use," says Charles. For her grandmother, that meant lots of okra and tomatoes. "She canned jars and jars of them at the end of the season," she says. "My mom used those jars of okra and tomatoes as an essential element in her gumbo." Charles stands firm in her belief that her mama's gumbo rivaled just about any other version out there, and she thinks it was the okra and tomatoes that were to thank.

Dominique Charles, Mama (Gwendolyn), and Maw Maw (Thelma)
Dominique Charles, Mama (Gwendolyn), and Maw Maw (Thelma). Courtesy of Dominique Charles

Take a gander at Plots and Pans or any one of the site's social media accounts, and you'll see Maw Maw's cardinal gardening rule at work, even if the path Charles took to get there looks a little different than her grandmother's. "Sometimes I feel like we have the smarter, not harder, approach to gardening, but we couldn't get there without the steps taken by our foremothers," says Charles. Sweet potatoes, she says, are a prime example. She might opt for utilizing grow bags fashioned out of coffee bean bags or recycled drinking bottles, whereas the ground-grown method was the only logical choice for generations that came before.

The key to bringing gardening back to its roots doesn't necessarily mean opting out of time-saving hacks or doing things the "hard" way. It all goes deeper than that. Whether you opt to utilize the newer resources available to modern-day gardeners, there's still plenty of room to bring the values of the old-fashioned garden to your little plot. "For every trendy thing we do in gardening, at the root of it all, simplicity is key," Charles says. "All you really need is seed, great soil, sunlight, water, and lots of love."

To inspire your own old-fashioned garden, Charles shares a list of her must-have crops:

01 of 04


okra in a box and on a table
Helen Norman/Dotdash Meredith

This is an easy, no fuss plant, that really just needs lots of sunlight to produce those beautiful pods. I love them because they don't require a lot of space to grow.

02 of 04


Pears on Cutting Board
Sasha Bell/Getty Images

Be sure to prune your tree regularly. Cut back any low-hanging branches. Doing this will encourage lots of growth. My Maw Maw canned pears and made pear preserves with her fruit. I haven't mastered canning (yet), but I make a mean pear crisp and pear bread.

03 of 04


rinsing strawberries in water and vinegar
Courtney West / Southern Living

I always loved when my Maw Maw grew blackberries and strawberries. I remember picking those sweet and tart berries and eating them off the vines before we even made it in the house. While I haven't grown blackberries yet, my love of growing strawberries remains strong. This year I dug up all of my strawberries and the runner plants and gifted most to friends. Strawberries are an easy fruit to grow, just make sure you have the space for them to run and produce more fruit.

04 of 04


Cherry tomato plant
Getty Images

I love growing tomatoes, but they definitely require attention to detail. Pesky bugs like tomato hornworms love these plants and, if you don't pay close attention, they will blend into the foliage and eat your tomatoes before you get a chance to.

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