By Jamie Balke explorebigsky.com Columnist

In a previous column I described my heretofore limited success at patio gardening. This spring, I’ve decided to turn it all around.

The first step was a trip to the public library, where I checked out a couple of great books. One was on container gardening, and the second was for people new to gardening, and specific to the Rocky Mountain region. I imagined the reading would be dry, but I was wrong. Allow me to share one of my favorite quotes from How to Get Started in Rocky Mountain Gardening by Rob Proctor.

“…for gardeners in the West, which generally has an alkaline soil, the lime would be a waste of time, like giving The Rock a gym membership for his birthday.”

It was a fun read. I got excited and started taking notes. Then, I subjected friends to readings from the notes accompanied by wild hand gestures and detailed lists of plants meeting the light requirements of my exposed, west-facing porch.

Luckily, a friend shares my enthusiasm for gardening, and we planned a plant-shopping day together.

At the first nursery, I was on a mission to find strawberry plants. Outside the door there was a fleet of little red wagons to be used as shopping carts. I assumed others would share our excitement regarding these wagons, and we would be two of many adults tugging them about. This was not the case. They proved remarkably loud and squeaky, and everywhere we crashed by, we disrupted the serenity of the serious gardeners around us.

I tried to make a joke about it to one of the employees, and she responded to the effect that, “Kids love pulling plants in the wagons.”

Placing three perky looking strawberry plants in the wagon that could easily have been carried by hand, I plastered a smile on my face and approached the register.

After all my browsing, it turns out I choose poorly. The lady at the register sold me three bare-root strawberry plants instead, which looked like mini sea monsters.

At the next garden shop, my friend found some beautiful flowers and interesting veggies. I purchased dwarf sunflower seeds after speaking with an employee who gently chastised us for considering annuals so early in the spring.

We returned to the original nursery for advice, and specific plants not yet available at the second store.

Based on my research, I was in search of purple coneflower, as well as lavender. Rather than roasting and wilting as other plants have done on my porch, I hoped these would soak up the sun and thrive.

I approached the register with my latest purchases and inquired about soil. When the cashier brought back a bag, I asked her a question attempting to sound informed.

“I can always tell when I am talking to a newbie,” she said.

We discussed using a friend’s horse manure as fertilizer (turns out, you can make it into some sort of nightmarish sounding “tea”). I opted instead for food pellets that you shake out of a jar. As I left, she advised me to bring my plants in at night for at least a week.

On the second day the plants were on my porch, a wasp that appeared to be slightly deranged sniffed about my strawberries, which must be a good omen.

Jamie Balke must stop writing, for the night is falling, and her plants need to be brought inside.