Sunday, December 6, 2009

Garden Coach?

It's been some time since I've posted on this blog and for anyone that is actually still checking in - I apologize. I mean, you can only read about worm castings so many times, right?

The summer months were not good to me. After the overwatering fiasco, I experienced drought which was equally devastating to the garden and to my enthusiasum as a green thumb wannabe.

I attended another beginners class with SilverLake Farm's owner Tara and although she's the best there is, I couldn't translate her instruction to my garden and so it continued to fall behind the season. Tomatoes were OK, but not great. In fact a couple of my plants never even grew. And I mean that literally...they were physically small and never produced fruit. sigh.

I searched the internet in vain trying to find the answer to my particular garden woes. Neat the coast, overcast mornings, less sun and heat. You get the picture. Then the universe spoke to me - there must be someone who would be willing to come to my garden and help me. But of course! Why hadn't I thought of that before? Someone that would come to my house, to my garden and talk about my dirt and my plants and my sun angle and my overcast mornings living so close to the beach. And so the hunt began.

I stalked the garden at the church on the corner by my house but never saw anyone there. "How can the be?" I thought. "The garden looks so terrific. Someone must be tending it?" . I asked the plant guy at my office for tips. He seemed clueless to help. So I googled. G. A. R. D. E. N. C. O. A. C. H. and hit 'enter.' And there they were. A regroup on the search to add Los Angeles and there she was...the GardenNerd. Yeah! She not only coaches, she had a cool blog AND she was in my she would totally understand the weather conditions! Now I had to examine my ego, banish it from the exercise and called for help.
I was giddy with excitement. I sent her a note pleading for her help. She replied and a date was set.

Christie arrived on time early one Saturday morning and immediately set an atmosphere of calmness by her open, friendly manner. I could tell right away that she knew her 'stuff' and I'd have a jam packed hour to pick her brain. I offered tea, (it seemed more appropriate than coffee) but she declined choosing instead to get right to work. With my notebook and pen in hand we headed to the garden.

Her first words were, "I'm jealous." I thought - we'll that's very kind of you to say, but I mean, this garden is pathetic - a jumbled mess of random plants with barren patches of soil in between. The greenhouse was vacant of life and the my rosemary which  I could count on year after year for beautiful blue blooms around this time of year was looking like driftwood. A graveyard of various sized empty pots and urns lay next to the dying herb garden.

"Soil looks good, " she said casually, crumbling some in her hand, breaking the silence. "you have quite a lot of space here." Is there any reason that you are planting your basil here and then over there and then over there? Do you like that scattered look?"

"well, I....I...."

Before I could speak she said politely, "your garden will work better if it's more organized."

Ding! there it was, the "O" word. Organization.

'well, I......"

"Have you even made a planting plan?"

Ding! There's the "P" word. Plan.

"well, I.....

"You really need a plan so you know what you're doing here."

"yes, well, I have made a plan, in fact many plans...," I stammered. "But when I get out to the garden, my plan sort of vanishes."

Before I could continue a more intelligent explanation, she started organizing the garden for me...

"All of your basil should go here, you'll do square foot gardening to make best use of these three are familiar with that, right? Plant some nastursiums here, here and there - they'll ramble over the empty pots there and liven that up through the winter. Put some violas here and here.

I was taking notes as fast as I could.

"Two bags of Bumper Crop and a cup of organic fertilizer in this bed and two and a half bag plus fertilizer in this bed...."

And on it went. As I tried desperately to take it all in, I realized that at the end of the day, gardening like life takes organization. Everything can't be spontaneous. I grew up with order. Friday was fish night. Spaghetti only on Saturdays and pot roast was saved for Sunday. The house was cleaned Saturday morning before noon. Tuesday was wash day. Could it be that I've been rebelling against the order my mother injected into our day-to-day upbringing? Hmmm. Possible. I would think I was a bigger person to let bygones be bygones. But maybe not.

When Christie left I looked around and realized I had my work cut out for me. I'd really spend my first season as a novice gardener wasting such precious time (not to mention money!) Or had I? Nothing is really wasted in the long run, it's all a learning experience, isn't it?

I decided to embrace Christie's suggestions with gusto and voila! Suddenly my hodge podge garden took on a beautiful order. I transplanted all the basil to one spot and there was suddenly more basil then I will eat the rest of this year. I put the broccoli that was scattered into a big barrel and interplanted gorgeous lavender violas. I put lettuces and spinach and strawberries in another bed creating a quilt of color. A pale peach viola here and there added punch. I broke down and took apart my herb bed and replanted it. Now it thrives. My parsely is happy, the beans are heading up the pole, the garlic is in the ground as are shallots, beets, endive and potatoes.

Next up I will tackle seedlings in the greenhouse with my new grow lights. I can still hear Christie's last words before good bye.... "if you start from seed it will be much less costly to garden and you'll be able to grow more interesting vegetables especially if you're into the heirlooms!"

Sigh. Plan. Organize. Plant. The mantra grows louder as box after box of seeds from all across the globe hit my mailbox.

Plan. Organize. Plant. Plan. Organize. Plant


  1. ANY garden would make me happy to have but an organized and well planned garden-- That would be paradise.

    I wish I had the space for even a few plants. I'll keep an eye our your garden instead and just dream of my own :-)


  2. Joanna have you thought about container gardening? You can build your own self watering containers. You can find directions for building them
    I built 3 this past spring as an experiment.
    I planted Heirloom Tomatoes in them. They all grew to 8ft. and out produced the ones that i planted in my garden by 50%. This year i am building more and intend to place them on my cement driveway and turn it into a garden.