“For beginning gardeners, I suggest starting out with easy-to-grow plants, such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, peppers, green beans and tomatoes,” Fishburn says. “Herbs are also easy to grow and are a great addition to any garden.”

If the promise of spring leads you to envision your own crop of freshly grown vegetables, you aren’t alone.

“The number of people growing vegetables is on the rise,” says Jennifer Fishburn, horticulture educator at the University of Illinois Extension service.

“For beginning gardeners, I suggest starting out with easy-to-grow plants, such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, peppers, green beans and tomatoes,” Fishburn says. “Herbs are also easy to grow and are a great addition to any garden.”

Another plant expert, Bill Becker of Agrosystems Management Inc. in Springfield, Ill., says he recommends new gardeners plant green beans — “the bush type” — cucumbers and any of the squashes: butternut, acorn and zucchini.

Other plants on Becker’s easy-to-grow list are tomatoes, peppers, radishes and beets. Start all these plants around the first week of May.

Becker is known as the “Crop Doctor” and has his doctorate in plant pathology, specializing in plant nutrition. A fan of tomatoes, he recommends the Roma variety because they are flavorful, easy to grow, and “they are prolific.”

“Romas are a firm tomato without a lot of seeds,” he says.

He also likes a larger cherry tomato called the Chadwick that he starts and sells as young plants as a fundraiser for a school in Springfield.

People who want to get an early jump on gardening can try growing lettuce, spinach, kale and Chinese cabbage, Becker says.

“You can start the first crop after March 15,” he says. “Then you can harvest those and grow another crop beginning in late August.”

Avoiding mistakes

New gardeners should exercise some caution, says Charlie Nardozzi, a nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio and television personality and the author of “Vegetable Gardening for Dummies.”

“The No. 1 mistake a novice gardener makes is trying to do too much,” he says. “I advise starting with a small, raised bed. Do good soil, and learn from that.”

Nardozzi says getting the right vegetable garden information is important because “if you don’t end up with edible food on the table, you’ve failed.” So read up on gardening, ask a garden-growing friend or consult your local extension office.

Fishburn says she believes gardening helps a person’s general well-being.

“Vegetable gardening can provide the grower many benefits,” she says, “including exercise, a break from the stress of everyday life, a decrease in the weekly food bill, nutritious produce that tastes better and is fresher than grocery store produce, and a sense of pride when you feed your family fresh vegetables from your own garden.”

Even if a family has never planted vegetables, Fishburn promotes gardening as good for kids, parents and grandparents alike.

“Gardening is a hobby that can be enjoyed by the whole family, from toddlers to seniors,” she says. “Growing plants creates a great opportunity for hands-on learning for children. For example, they can learn what it takes to grow a plant and the relationship between insects and plants. As an added benefit, most children particularly enjoy eating vegetables that they have grown.”