I have some suggestions, how to make “gardening” more useful and interesting.
Planters should be more like animal pens, with a section where you put the seed(s) and a section where you put the nutritions. There should be a small planter with only 1 seed slot, a medium planter with, let’s say 3 slots and a large planter with maybe 6 slots.
Per seed slot, you need to put a certain amount of seeds (maybe 1, maybe 10 or whatever) and after some time and with the right nutritions, there will be one visible, adult plant per slot, which can be harvested with your hands or with a sickle just like a wild plant, giving you more or less the same chances of getting some plant materials and seeds like a wild plant would, etc.
Water should be an essential nutrition allowing the seeds to grow. Some plants may need other essential nutritions but in general, nutritions like compost should rather improve the growth rate, the yield or the life span of a plant than preventing their growth, what makes it nice to get in the mid or late game but not a pain in the ■■■ in early game.
Well, this is already the basic concept, making gardenig more realistic and with a decent chance of being self sustainable without being boring, because you have to plant, to improve the growth or yield, to harvest and to replant the yielded seeds again. Anyway, there are some more ideas, how the concept could be expanded:
It would be nice, to see the plants grow in 3-4 different stages. Maybe it^s even possible to harvest them in a lower stage with a reduced yield and no chance to get seeds.
Once germinated, growing plants could have some sort of a life span. If you are two lazy and they run out of nutritions for some time, they gonna die, maybe just leaving behind some dry plant material which might be reused as nutrition for the next generation of plants.
Plants in a planter could have different genes, regulating their growth rate, yield of plant material, yield of seeds, life span and nutrition needs. These genes might be influenced by nutritions, might be inherited, might be even influenced by crossbreeding or a Thrall, etc.
If you want to grow southern plants in the cold north or northern plants in the dry south, it could be necessary to plant them in range of a fire or a fountain. Most plants could need light for their growth so you need to plant them outside, while mushrooms may prefer some darker spaces, etc.
Maybe a Thrall could take care of the plants, while you’re on an adventure…?
That’s it… hope you like the idea and maybe give it some support.