My Roots in Horticulture

 

While born in southern California, I was raised in the Pacific Northwest and consider its grey skies, damp climate, and fertile growing conditions to be my native soil. It’s easy to be a gardener in this far upper corner of the country; which is not to say my horticultural journey has been a clear path. Like so many of us with dirty nails and decidedly non-fashion-forward tan lines, my garden path has been a circuitous route. More stepping stone trail through a tangled landscape than a sweeping grand entryway to a tidy front yard.

 

As a kid, I was actually quite hard on the landscape. Evidenced by an event that took place early one spring. Playing “store” in our front yard, I plucked every last rhododendron bud within my reach to use as “money”. It’s a testament to my loving aunt that rather than ranting about my decimation of her seasonal show, I received an impromptu lesson in bud-to-bloom progression as illustrated by a neighbor’s shrub in full bloom just up the street. I had no idea. I’m afraid this was not my only infraction; cotoneaster leaves stripped from their stems between thumb and fingers and tossed into the air makes a terrific foliar confetti.

Later, in a back-to-the-land fit of resourcefulness, I received permission to plow up a part of my family’s backyard. I planted corn and promptly lost interest, lured away by AM radio, friends, and a disciplined tanning routine (even Seattle gets sunny in the summer). The weeds grew high, but the seed for my love of gardening was born.  I can’t remember if we got any corn.

Fast forward several years, a degree in fine art, homeownership and a yard of my own to plunder and plant. Strawberries and tomatoes soon led to flirting with summer geraniums, lobelia and other seasonal container plantings. Hybrid tea roses and the discovery of hardy perennials deepened my love of puttering in the dirt and picking food and flowers for the table.  But it was the birth of my second child that sealed my botanical fate.

 

I like to say Max drove me to horticulture.  He was an “active” child. Sleep deprived, exhausted, and in constant fear of his well-being, he and I took to spending long hours outdoors mucking about  where at least his falls would be cushioned by a soft lawn and, with any luck, the fresh air would wear him out enough to sleep. In parenting, as in so many other facets of life, I turned to the garden for a solution. So facing long hours outdoors in every month of the year–not just the balmy ones that previously contained my horticultural efforts–I began to make a “real” garden; one of substance and form, with contrast in texture and color, productive and beautiful in equal measure.

A part-time job at my neighborhood nursery allowed me a refreshing chance to interact with others of the adult persuasion while affording me a generous employee discount with which I could feed my new plant passion. It was there that I discovered “my people.” A community of like-minded souls for whom flower, bulb, grass and twig was a constant source of wonder and possibility. I never looked back. The next 15 years found me working full time in retail horticulture; 13 of those as the owner and operator of Fremont Gardens, a small specialty nursery which I began with the help and support of two partners. I like to think of this period as karmically balancing the garden havoc I  wrought in my youth.

Kids grow up, partners move on, but the garden endured even as the retail market for plants became increasingly crowded with big name brands, big box stores, and much bigger budgets than that of my modest endeavor. Those years were filled with enterprising growers, faithful customers, and a cadre of hardworking and loyal employees who shared my enthusiasm for making beautiful, healthy, dynamic gardens. Skills and visual training learned in college came to life, quite literally, as I designed outdoor spaces for beauty and relaxation. Painting with color and light, sculpting an environment, and orchestrating seasonal shifts, I came to see making gardens as a form of choreography–only with more mud and the occasional bug.

I closed Fremont Gardens in the fall of 2007 just in advance of the economic freefall; more happy accident than judicious planning. I’ve spent the last 5 years as a freelance writer, working from home and constantly gardening while contributing work for local and national publications and writing books.  You can read more about my years Planted at Home on my blog of the same name.

Today, the kids are grown. Frankly, I consider them my most successful crop to date. Smart, caring, passionate about what they do, they are resilient in hard times, and thoughtful. In the garden they’d be among the favorite plants you turn to again and again to create lasting and beautiful garden compositions–although the active one does have a tendency to run, if you know what I mean.

 

My husband and partner in this life adventure is James, a brilliant father and a talented graphic designer. We have an old house and a small city garden in Seattle just a few steps away from the moderating influence of Puget Sound.  I remain in charge of all things horticultural, but I couldn’t get along without his discerning eye for organizing space or his heavy-lifting abilities. Our lot is abundantly filled (read “overplanted”) with favorite plants and a small but productive vegetable garden, room to relax, and home to a tiny vintage travel trailer garden folly I like to escape to for the occasional nap.

Whether I’m digging in the garden, reveling in the changing light of the season, or enjoying a flavorful harvest, I never tire of exploring the natural world and how we can insert ourselves into an always changing dance with climate, soil, and plants.

All this pretty much brings things up to the present.  As editor of Pacific Horticulture I have the delicious job of connecting with people and discovering the stories they have to tell about their relationship with the garden. Young and old; seasoned professional or beginning newbie; wild and abandoned, or mild and reserved—there’s room for everyone to play along. If you have a topic you’d like to see us explore contact me here.  I’d love to hear your stories as well.