Many of us may be envious of our neighbors' gorgeous gardens; but you too can achieve growing greatness. All we need is a little time...and a willingness to take advantage of it
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Not Enough Time
“What my young self had decided when it came to gardening was, "As fun as this looks, I guess I won't have the time."
I did not grow up in a family of gardeners. My immediate family did not seem to have that lucky ‘green thumb’. My mother would often throw out the rotted remnants of aloe plants (and those are supposed to be hard to kill!) She eventually gave up with a sigh, "Gardening just isn't for me." My dad would procure seedlings from the local nursery, only to throw them into a small patch in our front yard, leaving them to their own devices. By the end of the season we would have a few sad looking, but edible, cabbages or bunches of swiss chard. My grandmother would force us grandkids to plant a few flowers scattered in her front walkway; all of it came with a sense of urgency. "Plant them and get it over with" she would say.
What my young self had decided when it came to gardening was, "As fun as this looks, I guess I won't have the time."
The one person in my life who seemed to have the time was my great aunt, who lived across the way from my grandmother. Each day I would visit my grandma after school, I would look across the street to see my aunt carefully curate her gorgeous flower garden. Starting in early March and extending into late fall, she would be out there, on her hands and knees, surrounded by wheelbarrows, buckets and water hoses, weeding and digging and doing whatever it was she did to keep the flowers looking immaculate.
I remember thinking as a child, “all of that work and time, for what? A few months of pretty flowers?”
Thankfully, in the last few years, my attitude has changed.
Bit by the Gardening Bug
My first attempt at a garden was not of my own accord. While working for the Chautauqua County Health Network (CCHN) in 2017, I was tasked with building and maintaining a unique new office accessory: a Tower Garden. This incredible invention was brought to CCHN via then County Executive George Borello, as a possible idea we could share under the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities project. It was decided that we would bring this invention to local school districts, maybe even food pantries. But first, someone had to test it out.
It started as a task, something I had to do each day. But I pursued the Tower Garden in the same way I did all work projects as a young professional: incredible attention to detail, weekly update reports, blocking off my calendar the same time each week to check it’s water supply. By the end of the gardens first ‘grow cycle’, it had produced a beautiful head of lettuce. And as I ate a salad for lunch that day, composed of incredibly delicious greens I had helped nurture, I realized how incredible gardening could be. I wanted more delicious lettuce. I had proven I had the time. I was hooked.
A Few Hiccups
“As I munched on my pathetic excuse for carrots (they did still taste pretty good!) I thought, ‘what’s the point if this is as good as I can get?” With a winter in between the next possible attempts, it just all seemed futile. "
That first summer, as I knew I could be successful with it, I bought a tower garden for my own home. I weeded it, tended to it, watered it. But in my over-exuberance I planted anything and everything I could think of. Cucumbers! That eventually grew so heavy they broke off their vines. Carrots! That are not suited to a tower garden, and harvested as sad, puny little carrots. Lettuce! Yes! That wilted and died as the zucchinis I planted above had shielded their sun intake. I was disappointed in that first harvest. As I munched on my pathetic excuse for carrots (they did still taste pretty good!) I thought, ‘what’s the point if this is as good as I can get?” With a winter in between the next possible attempts, it just all seemed futile.
But I wasn’t going to give up just yet. I had invested quite a lot of my time so far, and I was going to grow (eventually) something that was worth it all. Perhaps, I figured, this wasn’t the best I could do. I remembered the taste of that delicious lettuce I had cultivated back at CCHN. I was going to be successful at this gardening thing! So I began planning for the next season.
I sought advice from seasoned gardeners. Around here many of them are known as ‘Master Gardeners’, true leaders of the craft. I perused a variety of gardening books and blogs (The Backyard Homestead is a MUST buy). I realized no matter how badly I may want to grow avocados in WNY (they take around 3 years in this climate to even seed!), it might be easier to plant some squash.
The Tower Garden worked best for greens and herbs, so that is what I planted the next season. Radishes worked pretty well too. My 2019 bounty wasn’t as terrible as the previous. So I took what I had learned, and began planning once again.
Practice Makes Almost Perfect
"A garden WANTS to grow. It will never be perfect. You won't be the 'ideal' model gardener. But you will succeed."
For 2020, I had quite a few advantages. The first being moving into my new home in Jamestown, complete with a ¼ acre back yard. Then the silver lining that was ‘home quarantine’: more time. Stuck, like most of us, in my home and my own thoughts of uncertainty, I decided I could take my gardening game to the next level.
Thanks to my new space, some wood scraps procured by a wonderfully thrifty friend, and some dirt purchased at Troyer’s Greenhouse, I was able to set up seven 4x2 garden boxes and a compost pile. And while, it might have been much easier to hop in the car and drive the five minutes to Wegmans to stock up on fresh basil, or rely entirely on the vendors of the public market (which isn’t a bad thing, their produce being the freshest and most sustainable in our county) I discovered the joy that my great aunt must feel when her flowers finally bloom.
By the end of the season I had harvested the most food I had every grown: radishes, ground cherries, basil, sage, oregano, mint, even a couple blackberries. And my household is still enjoying the bounty well into winter, what with some frozen pesto and potatoes stored in our cellar. Four years from the start of my gardening journey, I am planning my fifth garden for 2021. And I know that it will be better than the year before. I look back to my time as a child, watching my aunt toil away yet again in the garden, ruminating on the insanity she must have fallen into to stick her hands into the dirt each day, year after year. I am the insane one now. And it is glorious.
As my lavender rose tall, as my strawberry plant budded real strawberries, as the zucchini grew (and grew, and grew!) I had a true sense of peace. Of accomplishment. I did that! Well… I helped. A garden itself is a true miracle. What my garden journey thus far has taught me is, it really doesn’t take much more than a little sunshine, water and the most important component: patience. A garden WANTS to grow. It will never be perfect. You won't be the 'ideal' model gardener. But you will succeed.
You Too Can Garden!
Despite what it may seem like, you don’t need much to get growing. Even time; the more you have, perhaps the more you can do. But the reality is, you can do a lot with very little. Herbs can easily be nurtured in a small windowsill pot. Fruit bushes can be planted along the sides of your home or shed. You can even invest in fancy tower gardens that produce utilizing grow lights all year long!
But if you are looking for a more traditional gardening experience, you can be a part of the GROW Jamestown Community gardens. Now under the helm of the Jamestown Public Market, beds will be ready for plants April 15. Garden plots fill up fast (previous year’s gardeners do have seniority) so contact us today to be put on our rental list! The beauty of community gardening is not the space, but the support from seasoned gardeners and fellow newbies; the community we build. Our gardens also have compost piles, and we’ll be happy to help you learn!
Before you commit, remember it will take a lot of patience. But we have faith that you can accomplish your gardening goals! We’ll be right in the dirt with you.
For more information on the GROW Jamestown Community Garden Program contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org