The growing of a gardener

Here is Lynne Roberts story (who is on the Home Grown NM Board of Directors) of how she became a gardener.

from peanuts and radishes to veggies, greens, fruits, and grapes…and more!!
by Lynne Roberts

I live now in Eldorado, New Mexico, surrounded by more garden space than I really knew what to do with.  When I first moved to Eldorado in New Mexico in January 2007 there was three feet of snow on the ground, roofs, and garden beds due to the many snowstorms from Thanksgiving, 2006, to late January, 2007.  I couldn’t walk out of the house without many layers of warm clothing, woolly pants, high boots, hats, scarves, and gloves, and both walking and driving in that really deep snow were scary activities. In memory, it seemed like a very long trip from the hot humid stale air of New York City, where I lived as a young person, in both Manhattan and the Bronx, to the dry, low humidity regions of Northern New Mexico.  There are times when I wonder how I made the journey to New Mexico, and learned to garden in this very dry, somewhat hostile, almost waterless environment, surrounded by pinon trees, tall juniper trees that seem to have taken over the land, sending their eye-irritating pollen into the air every spring, and being challenged by the lack of real garden resources, such as rich soil, water, and a welcoming environment.

But, I’m moving too fast into this narrative of being transformed from a wide-eyed nine year old girl, living in NYC, to a devoted and enthusiastic gardener/senior citizen in the always challenging gardening environment of Eldorado.

I first discovered gardening when I was nine years old, in NYC. I was sent to summer gardening “camp” by my mother, to keep me busy for that summer and away from the “wild and mean” streets of New York City and my ‘wild gang’ of  friends: Eugene, Ira, and “tomboy” Lynne.

PS l04 School_NYC

The “garden” was in the asphalt school yard of P.S. 104, where the school janitors had pulled the tar out of a three foot wide by 20 foot long area, to create the “garden.”  My first ever crops were radishes and peanuts; I was transfixed and delighted that something had grown from those hard pebble-like things that I had planted into the dirt weeks ago. I immediately developed a lifelong passion for growing things and a deep respect for Mother Nature, the earth, water resources, ecology, and all living vegetables. I was shocked, amazed, and delighted that I had grown something, and probably took most of the credit from Mother Nature, as I had never before really had any idea nor interest in knowing where our meals and “vegetables” came from.

Unfortunately, my mother was not a “happy cook”. She would open a can of heavily processed vegetables and pour that into an aluminum pot and boil the hell out of that mixture to “prepare” vegetables for our dinner.  If we ate salad, it was pale green, white tasteless iceberg lettuce sold in a plastic bag. Carrots and radishes also came from plastic bags sold at the supermarket. The carrots usually had long stringy “hairs” on them, like an old-man’s wispy beard, and the radishes were too sharp, “hot,” and unpleasant to eat. Green beans came as “string beans” -limp, tasteless, mushy pale green pieces of something. That was the extent of our vegetable “bounty” for meals.

My mother actually liked flowers, but mostly in pots, so that they would “last longer.”  She hated to see the bouquets of fresh flowers die several days later, and felt that it was a major waste of money to buy cut flowers for the house/dinner table. When we finally moved from NYC to the suburbs of New Jersey, with a “private house” and large yard, I began to take much more of an interest in seeing what I could grow in that soil.

Since it was impossible to buy a flower gift for my mother that she could actually appreciate without counting the number of days till those delightful smelling and highly colored flowers would die, I started buying her potted roses, fruit trees in pots, vegetable starts,  ivies, trailing vines, and perennial bushes. I planted everything myself, working tirelessly on weekends and during summer vacations, to make something grow (and survive), and to please my mother. Indeed, she was shocked to see a real vegetable garden growing by the patio, and real (tiny) fruits growing from the spindly little fruit trees that I had planted two years before.

I moved to Manhattan as an adult and was lucky enough to have a mini garden attached to the side of my apartment building. I had my own little plot of green with red radishes, teeny orange carrots, yellow, red, and orange marigolds. I learned how to grow in small containers and in tiny spaces. I bought fresh vegetables and sweet ripe fruits weekly from the many farmers markets in Manhattan.

Eldorado subdivision_photo-by-j-arnold-via-wiki-commons.jpg

Moving to Eldorado in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I found that, ironically, I still had to continue growing in containers and raised beds (with hardware cloth underneath) to maintain any possibility of outsmarting the gophers and of seeing any vegetation survive. To learn more about gardening in the high desert, with all those unfavorable conditions and hungry insects, I took the Santa Fe Master Gardener certification courses. I graduated with a far better understanding of how to be a more successful gardener by respecting the vagaries of the weather and maximizing the growing season with raised beds, covered gardens, screening cloth. I learned how to garden in the high desert with its limitations and demands.

I madly composted in a straw bale worm composting set up which is one of the easiest ways to make compost and worm tea for my gardens. I bought garden books and read voraciously. I looked at videos on-line, from many different sources, with fruit and berry companies creating some very useful videos for planting and growing information. I attended workshops, Home Grown NM classes, and visits to farms and friends’ gardens. I visited botanical gardens.

I exchanged seeds at the Home Grown NM Seed Exchanges, and asked many questions of generous Master Gardeners, neighborhood gardeners and Home Grown NM gardeners.

My advice to new gardeners is to be CURIOUS, ask QUESTIONS, READ gardening books, WATCH videos, TALK to other gardeners and never lose your sense of wonder and appreciation for nature.

This has been a wonderful journey, from that tiny school yard “garden” to my own little garden in Eldorado. I have shared the information that I have learned and that others have shared with me. Gardeners have proven to be very generous and kind with their knowledge, experiences, produce, garden clippings, plants, and gardening “secrets” learned from experience and time.

Throughout the years, my mother told me that she was very proud of me as a gardener. Her roses and fruit trees (or their descendants or replacements) still bear flowers and fruit that the family currently living at our “old” house still enjoy.


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