I’ve been surrounded by gardeners all my life–it’s a peril of having spent three decades in the western half of California, where year-round growing is pretty easy. In my perambulations around the country and the web, however, I’ve come to know (as friends or merely as a website lurker) some people who have a really deep relationship with their gardens, and I’d like to give some of them a shout-out here, as they’re an inspiration.
First, if we’re talking about floriculture, my mom is at the very top of my gardening idols. Her yard boasts a few dozen lovely and fragrant rosebushes and I’m guessing at least a dozen varieties of begonia. My parents have lived in their Southern California home since 1968, so they’ve had plenty of time to improve the soil, and it shows–her garden blossoms year-round thanks to nearly a hundred tall and prolific perennials whose names I never seem able to remember.
Next on my floriculture list would be a number of women you’ve likely never heard of–none of them are alive today–but who all contributed in one way or another to California floriculture or to the understanding of California’s native plants: Lester Rowntree, Theodosia Shepherd, Alice Eastwood, Gerda Isenberg, Susanna Bixby Bryant, and Kate Sessions. (I’m in the process of becoming a California garden historian of sorts, so admiring late floricultural and horticultural pioneers is becoming a vocational hazard.)
If we’re going to talk about edible horticulture, however, then I’m eager to list people I’ve met and people I want to meet but thus far know only online.
My friend Barbara Ganley runs Open View Gardens adjacent to her home in rural Vermont. While she’s not technically an urban gardener, Barbara’s methods are applicable to intensive gardening of food, and her passion for her work is inspirational. I admire the way she has launched a business that supports her passions through truly one-of-a-kind cooking workshops, a lovely shop packed with dried herbs and peppers, syrups, jams, jellies, condiments, and more from her garden and kitchen, and subscriptions to special ingredients from Barbara’s kitchen, as well as recipes and menus that call for those ingredients. Her site also boasts a ton of recipes drawn from cuisines around the world–and all infused with Barbara’s brilliance as a gardener, chef, and all-around creative thinker.
I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with Bryan Alexander at a number of education technology conferences; he lives just up the mountain from Barbara, but–as he emphasized in a guest post on Barbara’s blog–his gardening takes on additional urgency in the face of the isolation winter brings to his community. Bryan blogs about the Gothic at Infocult (not a site for the queasy of stomach or those prone to nightmares, I assure you) and is the author of The New Digital Storytelling, but for gardeners his most interesting site is likely Scaling the Peak, “a blog about peak oil and a family attempting to cope.” On that blog he chronicles his family’s agricultural adventures on what he affectionately terms “the doomstead.” Again, Bryan’s homestead isn’t urban, but his experiments remain relevant to those of us in cities and suburbs; check out, for example, his post on early July homestead activities or planting potatoes in June.
When I lived in California, I found the blogs of northern denizens like Barbara and Bryan to be really interesting and inspiring. Since my move to Idaho, I’ve found them instructional as well. Definitely add them to your feed reader or bookmarks, especially if like me you’re challenged by a late last frost date and a short growing season.
My pseudonymous friend Garden Grrrl, who blogs at Gardensong, is always ready and willing to ease my muddling through the garden. Like me, she has a passion for informal science education and the democratization of knowledge about horticulture and the natural world. Though she hasn’t been the most prolific blogger lately, I’m delighted to number her among my good friends–and thrilled that I have her phone number for good conversation and garden emergencies.
I’ve never met the Dervaes family, but I hope one of my regular visits to Southern California will soon take me by their Pasadena urban homestead (a term the family has registered as a trademark, to much chagrin–OK, indignation–in the urban ag community). On one-tenth of an acre, the Dervaes produce more than three tons of organic food annually.
I’m just learning about the saga of the South Central farmers of Los Angeles. They’ve seen their community farm’s acreage decline dramatically, and they’re fighting to retain access to one final sliver of land. Check out their site to see how you might help.
I also admire the myriad community gardeners in Oakland, California. (Urban farming and community gardening has absolutely taken off in the San Francisco Bay Area.) There are Oakland neighborhoods without a grocery store, so it’s difficult to get fresh produce. Activists, neighbors, and entrepreneurs have teamed up to bring ultra-local fresh food to the residents in the form of gardens and urban farms.
Which gardeners do you admire, and why?