Thursday, July 8, 2010

my gardening heroes

katherine is my number one gardening hero, idol, guru, mentor... i credit her with opening my eyes to what a garden should look like, a kind of botanical beautiful i wasn’t really aware of before i walked into her back yard.

two years ago she was living up on the boise bench in a house with a huge, sunny yard that she filled with sunflowers, corn, lettuce, peas, poppies...really everything, i shouldn’t even try to make a list.

we walked through the garden barefoot--there were bricks and stepping stones surrounded by sprawling woolly thyme groundcover that felt softer underfoot than anything you can imagine. she irrigated with greywater, had an enormous compost heap, and of course kept the whole operation organic. nothing about the garden was perfect, everything was delightful.

while i stood around gawking she was always in motion, clearing weeds, cutting flowers, picking four-leafed clovers or stroking her plants in that gentle but unrestrained way that displays how well she knows them, how comfortable she is with them and how deeply she cares for them. you can see it in this photo, the way she touches the plants:

the sunflowers were probably the best thing in that summer 2008 garden.

i’d never seen sunflowers like those, so tall and thick and with so many large heads on each stalk. every time i came over she sent me home with a whole bouquet of them that stayed looking fresh and too-flawless-to-be-real for an extraordinarily long period of time.

katherine has this incredibly easygoing relationship with her plants. she puts seeds in the ground wherever, anywhere that there’s space, and she just lets them grow. i learned from her that you don’t need to plant things in neat rows and you don’t need to follow seed packet instructions or pay much attention to planting distance. the most beautiful garden is a free-spirited garden that follows no rules or conventions and has no boundaries.

this summer she’s living in a small duplex with only a thin, shady alley in which to garden--extremely difficult conditions, but damned if she’s not pulling it off. she lined the alley with rows of large self-watering containers, the contents of which look like shrunken manifestations of her previous gardens, jam-packed with random plants and seedlings. she also placed clusters of lovely, decorative, smaller containers wherever they fit, outside and indoors, and created a comfy garden nook for herself.

sadly the majority of her tomato plants perished in one of those freak cold snaps we had mid-spring, so she’s starting new tomato plants now, from seed.

if it was any other person starting tomatoes from seed this late in the season i’d think they were crazy, but with her, i’m totally confident that she will somehow miraculously make them grow super fast and will be harvesting buckets of tomatoes come august. she is magic.

katherine’s not my only gardening hero, though. i don’t know if i would’ve ever picked up an interest in gardening if it wasn’t for my mom's influence. back in takoma park, maryland, where the nights are warm and the frost-free growing season lasts over 200 days, she always had a plot with peas, tomatoes, squash, herbs and other standards. tomatoes were the big deal, especially for her dad. my grandpa would come over, park himself in front of the tomato plants and blissfully devour fruits straight off the vine. she says he was “a country boy at heart.” he would also eat raw onions, biting right into them like they were apples.

when i was a little kid my mom grew sugar snap peas here in boise. i don’t know what variety they were or what she did to them, but they were the sweetest peas i’ve ever tasted, and i’ve never been able to grow or buy any that compare.

my mom’s kinda funny about gardening, though. she loves buying plants, likes watering things, composts religiously, and, for reasons i don’t completely understand, she gets pretty excited about dead-heading flowers. most of all she loves harvesting. BUT, she can’t be bothered to do those everyday tedious tasks, like pulling weeds, staking and tying up plants, pruning, starting seeds, fertilizing, etc...basically anything she considers “fussy.” she doesn’t want fussy plants, she just wants to set them outside, water them once in a while and watch them produce like crazy.

her philosophy and attitude definitely rubbed off on me--i was the same way until i started educating myself about how to actually grow stuff, rather than ignoring all the details and relying almost entirely on intuition as i felt i should be able to do. this change in attitude is a very recent development. like, 2010 recent. i used to check out gardening books just to look at the pictures, but now i actually read them...i think that pretty well exemplifies the dramatic shift in my approach. at the same time i’ve learned to enjoy the journey a whole lot more, taking enormous pleasure in all those fussy details.

garden bloggers are also my gardening heroes. i get such enjoyment, inspiration and motivation from checking out what other people are growing, reading about their gardening adventures, seeing their wonderful photos, taking virtual garden tours and so on. it’s super informative--i’ve learned so much from the knowledge and experience and advice offered by people in the garden blogging community. and the shared enthusiasm is uplifting.

anyone else have a garden hero story they want to share?


Andrea said...

Emily, I imagine your garden beautiful, like your photographs!

GoneferalinID said...

I lived in Tacoma Park for a few months in 1999! What an interesting place. D.C. was a fun time.

Of course I draw inspiration from your blog, and I like Thomas's Growing Tradition blog as well. I like the blogs that aren't just garden porn. Showing the flaws and failures are just as interesting.

Emily said...

thank you, andrea!

goneferal--what a weird coincidence about TKPK! what brought you to live there? i only lived there for four years but visited every summer for a long time. i love that place.

i draw a lot of inspiration from your blog too. and excitement! every time i read one of your posts i get all happy and excited...especially when there are tomato pictures...

Jessica said...

Your friend's graceful and heartfelt relationship with her plants does come through here. Her 2008 garden sounds a lot like my dream garden, the one that exists mostly in my head. Her late planting of tomato seeds inspires me to plant more sunflower seeds (see my post of "Garden Friday Fail". This post is really nice. It resonates with me as your writing often does.

Emily said...

ah, dream gardens. mine hasn’t quite translated to reality yet either. i’m glad you’re inspired to try again with the sunflowers--now that it’s dry and sunny they’ll probably grow super fast.