As Jamila Norman sees it, there's no such thing as not having a green thumb: "As long as you've got some sunshine, you can buy some soil, and you can water your plants, you can grow something," she tells House Beautiful. That's the underlying attitude of Norman's new show, premiering later this week on Chip and Joanna Gaines's new Magnolia Network. Dubbed Homegrown, the series follows Norman, an Atlanta-based farmer and food activist, as she works with families to turn their backyards into beautiful, functional gardens that also serve as food sources.
"Connecting with the land and sharing it with my community is my greatest passion," Norman says in the preview for Homegrown (watch it above!). Norman herself farms on 1.2 acres of land in downtown Atlanta—but she's adamant that no matter the size or location of their home, anyone can (and should!) be growing food. "I want people to realize that gardening is very approachable," she tells House Beautiful. "There's a lot of potential and a lot of enjoyment, no matter where you are, in being able to bring something green and edible into your home."
Ahead of her series launch on July 15—sign up for discovery+ to watch—House Beautiful caught up with Norman to hear her advice on everything from her favorite plants to how to get started with an edible garden of any size, for kids and adults alike.
On the misconceptions about urban farming:
While the word "farmer" may conjure notions of wide sweeping fields and plenty of high-tech equipment, Norman is determined to make home-grown food more accessible. "We're used to house plants in our homes," she points out. "You can easily just trade those out for food. I think people are maybe just intimidated by the idea of growing food and maybe their understanding is that it's a lot of hard work. As a farmer growing food as a profession, yeah, it is a lot of hard work, but there's lots of opportunity for homeowners or people living in apartments to grow something just for themselves—whether that's in their yards or on a balcony."
On the best advice for beginner gardeners:
"Start small and grow things you love," Norman advises nervous first-time gardeners. And make use of resources available to you! "Read books, go on YouTube," she urges. "I am self taught. I didn't go to school for this or grow up on a farm, but it was something I was interested in and passionate about, so I learned."
On the best plant for beginners:
Ok, so you're starting small with a windowsill garden—what to plant? "Lettuces are really easy," Norman advises. "And so are herbs—you can buy them already small from the hardware store or your local garden center." Other beginner-friendly plants she recommends are radishes and beans. "Growing up, in science class when you were learning about plant biology, did you germinate beans?" Norman asks. "See, that was easy—just let them grow a little longer and you've got beans!"
On her favorite plants to grow:
As for the edible plants she comes back to time and time again, Norman says "I love all leafy greens and herbs but I really love root vegetables." Since they grow underground, root vegetables are like fun surprises for the gardener, she says. "You're just always amazed when you pull them up, because they're buried and all you see is the green on top and then you look at all this color that comes up."
On how to create multipurpose gardens:
Even if you do have space for a larger edible garden, it doesn't have to be just that, Norman advises: "When I'm working with the families, we're trying to make sure that we're designing a garden that can be part of their lifestyle so that it's not this thing on the side that like I have to go attend to, it's an extension of your home," she says.
Some creative ways Norman will reimagine gardens on the show? "We've done fire pits in the garden; for one family we did a projector screen, and another family wanted an outdoor dining space surrounded by a garden," she reveals. Which is a good reminder: Edible gardens don't have to be confined to beds, either.
"You can bring edible plants into all the landscaping around your home," Norman advises. "Rosemary is alive and edible, so is kale and lavender. These plants can serve multiple purposes—they don't just have to be beautiful."
On gardening with kids:
If you're incorporating the garden into your home, why not involve the whole family, too? "I say, 'let them go for it,'" Norman says. "Let them be hands on, give them responsibility." In fact, you just might find it has some unexpected additional benefits: "One of the first places where I farmed in Atlanta was at a middle school," Norman shares. "The parents would come back and they're like, 'my kids are eating vegetables!' They're excited because they grew it."
Moral of the story? "Give them their own little tools and let them go out there and just give them responsibility from the very beginning," she advises.
On the wellness benefits of gardening:
"With the act of gardening or farming, you're getting fresh air, you're moving, you're connecting with the Earth and the elements and you have to be present," she points out. And that's before you even harvest it! "Eating fresh food and consuming food that's really fresh right after you harvest it, it's packed with so much more nutrients," she says. "It's just better for you all around—and plus, you're cultivating something beautiful."
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