My Garden Journey
I started gardening when I was twelve with a one cent seed pack. My father gave me a small area on the north side of the house and told me nothing would grow there. I grew some beans and a tiny watermelon and some squash. I was hooked.
I never lived places where I could have a garden. When my son was little, I thought he would enjoy digging in the dirt outside, so I grew a little at my mom's house. Like me, he loved vegetables. He was jealous of the plants, but quickly started eating everything, including my mom's green strawberries!
We lived in Western Colorado and finally moved down from zone 2 to zone 3. I was able to start a garden in the back yard. My son stands here next to the new beds. It was a success, but when we were hiking, my son ate some iris seeds thinking they were peas. This made me very aware of poisonous plants, especially in the yard. I always tried to grow all edible plants.
In California, I thought it would be easy to garden. All the rain came in two months, and the soil was all over the place. One house I had sand, but at this place the clay was so hard I couldn't drive a pick ax into it. So I built raised beds. I learned that lettuce and celery liked a LOT of water, way more than we used in the West, where one inch a week was all we could afford. I lived placed where people sneaked their gray water from the bath out to keep their trees alive and were reported for using too much water. Politics. In Western Colorado water had to go to Phoenix, who owned it. In California, it was just too expensive, but farmers east of us wasted it rather than growing cover crops. I got more and more interested in the politics of gardening and food.
Back to Colorado, where I gardened at 8500 feet up where the average wind speed all winter was 65mph. I had a yard of rocks. I dug them out to make walls, but the chipmunks ravaged anything that the deer did not eat! I had to use my water containers for my pots upside down to protect the plants from the critters.
We then moved to Florida, which was challenging in a different way. There the soil was so hot in October that you couldn't plant in it. The birds were starving by then and the late rains would pound seedlings to a pulp. I had a nice winter garden, but most advice was a joke. The bugs were amazing, eating compost pits in two weeks. Everything was a race against bugs and disease when spring came. However, I found out that there were a lot of plants that did extremely well with the heat. Tomatoes, corn and squash were a joke, but basil, chilis, sesame, melokiya (an Egyptian green) and lagenaria (Italian squash) did well. My basil plants were five feet around!
We moved again, and I finally got another garden in a rental house in Oregon. Again, I had no soil in the back yard. We were at the bottom of a north slope on acid clay that was waterlogged all winter. So I built beds again. I was still poor, so my motto was "use what you have." I had sod. I wrapped the sod in landscaping cloth.
I made freeform beds that conformed to the shape of the yard. I also had this huge deck that was so hot in the summer that you would burn your foot standing on it. The rest of the yard got a lot of shade.
I did have water. We had moved to Oregon because I was very tired of water issues. Here is the start of my raised bed garden. I thought I was in garden heaven, and then I learned the hard way about disease. The soil I had bought was hydrophobic, so water pooled on the top and gray mold would race across the bed. I learned that I could pack plants closely in the raised bed style in the summer, but winter was a joke. It was just too wet. Even standbys that would take the cold would not survive the slugs and the molds. But I keep on. We then had to move again.
While I was putting the lawn back for the landlord, I moved all my plants up into tubs on the deck. They thrived there pretty well. I could not afford nice garden tubs, but I discovered that storage tubs would hold up pretty well to the UV and freezing. They were quite large, so I could grow almost anything in them.
We got a house with no back yard. The front was overgrown with juniper, so the first thing I had to do was remove the junipers while my plants tried to survive 105 degree temps in heavy smoke from the nearby fires. When you live in the West, you are resigned to it burning down every summer. I had acid clay that was further stressed by a redwood tree. I had about 8 feet in the front and then a hell strip of another eight feet.
I was worried about gardening in public, right on the street, but the neighbors were friendly and loved that someone was taking care of the yard. I continue to have a problem with bums stealing stuff out of the yard, anything but food! Here, I am slowly moving my potted plants into raised beds. In the "use what you have" spirit, I took out the slate walkways which were slick in the winter and built up the sloping beds.
Pretty soon, my idea of doing a cottage garden for this cottage began to take off. The beds worked, here you can see the slate wall. I had plenty of plants I had saved from my other house. Moving them was a total joke, since the least of them was over a hundred pounds! But we slogged them over there, one by one up into a van. It did not seem worth it until I was able to get the perennials out into the yard. Much of it was food.
Most of the neighbors have been delightful. One guy thought I was crazy to grow a summer squash on the wall, but most of them have appreciated the cottage look. The entire yard is now full of food. People stop and take pictures and bring their kids to see a garden full of food and flowers. I have dinosaurs and little houses to amuse the children.
I feel strongly that it's important to garden, and also to stop growing lawns and stuff for show and grow plants that are edible, nutritious, fun, and lift the spirit. I have also met all my neighbors!