1. How important is gardening to your daily life?
Gardening is an essential part of my daily life. It is the place of reconnecting with the Earth, a place for grounding, centering and renewing myself, ever blessedly available. Once outside in the garden I am immediately drawn into the world of the garden where I am breathing more deeply of the fresh clean air, re-oxygenating myself, and exercising as I move hoses about to water, use my arm and trunk and leg muscles to dig and weed with hoe and shovel or prune or push a lawn mower. I always laugh when I recall hearing Oprah ask a gardener on her show, "How can you exercise that much in the garden?" Ha! Without a doubt gardening is one of the best forms of exercise and enriches us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually!
2. What types of plants do you think are essential for every garden?
The types of plants that are essential for every garden depend entirely on the individual and his or her locale. One should plant the plants one loves. One should plant plants one knows one can grow well. Gardeners discover they have a natural affinity for certain plants and without needing to understand what that is about, one should make that observation about oneself and take note. We can't all grow everything well. It's very unlikely. It is also critical to plant those plants that will do well in one's area, i.e. to be appropriate. One cannot assume that just because a plant is for sale in one's local nursery that it is an appropriate plant for one's environment. It's important to know what kind of soil you have, what it needs, what plants will do well in that soil and to factor in the local climate. You don't want to be growing bougainvillea, or any other tropical in Oregon or Massachusetts. Don't be seduced by your local nursery into growing plants that will die in the first frost simply because they are "pretty." It's a waste of money, time and energy and the plant dies. I also believe it's important to consider including some plants indigenous to your area, as they will support the local wildlife. It's not enough to plant butterfly bush to attract butterflies. If there are no plants in the area where Mama Butterfly can lay her eggs, you won't have butterflies for long on your butterfly bushes! I don't think it's necessary to go all native. But don't make the mistake of thinking your yard is a blank canvas. It's not. It's part of an ecosystem.
Best to bear in mind and support that fact.
3. What advice can you give our mom readers on how to start a garden?
Here are things you can do:
Decide whether you want flowers or vegetables or both. My recommendation is both, for all the right reasons. Start with easy to grow plants like nasturtium and calendula which you can plant from seed--and then harvest the seeds for next year! Be sure your children learn as you learn. Do it together. I don't think there is any better lesson a child can learn than the power of putting a seed in the ground and watching it grow--especially if it's something that ultimately ends up on the dinner plate! Grow tomatoes and pumpkins. You can't go wrong with those. If you have a small space, grow pumpkins vertically and put your tomatoes in big rubber pots in your driveway or balcony. You can always find a way. Grow rosemary and oregano.
They will really enhance your cooking!
4. What types of methods and substances do you use to maintain and treat the plants in your garden?
I never ever use poison. I dig up weeds by hand. Period. It's the least I can do for me, for my dogs, and daughter and the planet. I have experimented with using plastic sheeting to solarize a particularly invasive plant. I was partially and temporarily successful. I am still learning to deal with invasives. For now I maintain through sweat equity. It has the least impact on my environment and the best impact on me, as working in the garden is a good thing. I am good at feeding plants what they specifically need. Roses like rose food. Azaleas like plant food designed for them and rhodies, the acid loving plants. It goes back to learning what each plant needs--and giving it that, for ultimate success. Happy plants will make you happy. The right food. The right water. The right amount of shade or sun. It's a science about which you will learn over a lifetime. Enjoy the process.
5. You have described yourself as a keen nature observer. As a nature observer, what do you do?
I once wrote on my blog that in order to know a plant, one must work with a plant. As I work with plants I obverse their nature, and find myself in a continual process of learning, based on a furious curiosity about all I see about me. Plants do not live in isolation. One thing leads to another. A plant leads to its interactions with other plants. There's a mystery there. A plant has enemies - something to solve. A plant has likes and dislikes. What do I need to know so that it flourishes? A plant is part of an ecosystem. Where does it fit? What is its task? A plant serves as a host plant to others. Who and why? It's an endless river of mysteries and explorations and discoveries. Then there is the observer herself. And this leads to other realms as well.
6. What lessons for life do you think people can learn from their garden?
I have written an entire book called “Plant Whatever Brings You Joy:
Blessed Wisdom from the Garden,” which I intend to make available to the public this year. The book is built on 52 Life Lessons learned in the garden that are applicable to our everyday life, be that personal or professional. Every day there is a new discovery, I assure you.
7. What are some of your favorite books that act as a Gardener’s Guide?
The gardening bible for us in Northern California is “Western Garden Book.” I'm certain Sunset Books publishes other regional guides. It is not difficult to find books that are appropriate for one's locale. When I lived in North Carolina I purchased a book called “The North Carolina Gardener's Guide.” I also have turned, in my learning to such books as “The Encyclopedia of Herbs,” ”Bringing Nature Home” and Timber Press has a book called “The Family Kitchen Garden,” which I believe would be a good resource for moms who are gardening. I also personally love the magazine “Phoenix Home and Garden” as it's a wonderful resource for creative ideas, as well as gardening tips for those in the Southwest.