In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2006
Regional Report

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Ranunculus were the first bulbs I planted as a child with my Mom.

A Legacy of Dirt Under the Fingernails

My parents were the energy behind my loving gardening so much that I've made a career out of it. My dad grew up in the mountains of what is now near Zagreb, Croatia. My Mom was born and bred in Chicago, although her family came from old Bohemia, apparently within 100 miles of Dad's. Dad was a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, since only potatoes and apples thrived at his childhood home's altitude. Mom, with poor childhood nutrition, became enthralled with fresh vegetables and fruits. They met in Chicago, moved to Los Angeles, built a home in Pasadena with a heritage-age oak tree on a hillside, and created a half-acre garden with 20 fruit trees and several long vegetable and strawberry beds.

Dad focused on the fruit trees, although he played with interbreeding banana, hubbard, and other winter squash for the best flavor. His ultimate choice was a round, warty, grey-blue monster with bright orange flesh that Mom made into wondrous, chiffony "pumpkin" pies all winter long.

Mom's areas of delight and expertise were the vegetables, strawberries, and boysenberries for our daily, year-round consumption. Her never-ending task was to weed the dichondra; when she finished with the bed, she'd start again at the other end, somewhat like the painters on San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge.

We didn't do much with flowers because my Dad determined that we couldn't eat them. However, Mom treated us to a row of roses outside our front windows. My responsibility was the weeds, but I also got to taste-test the fruit, including the sweet-and-puckery kumquats, and pick the lettuce each evening and the strawberries in summer.

Amazing how the onus of weeding changes once when the weeds are your own! When my husband and I moved to the nearby town of Altadena, we thrilled in the flat garden -- no more hauling everything up a ramp or stairs! We planted a quarter-acre of strawberry beds, blocks of corn, borders of lettuce, mounds of squash, and corralled trellises of tomatoes.

One year the compost pile taught me the greatest gardening lesson. The unruly pile, which I didn't yet know how to construct or balance with "greens" and "browns," sprouted a tomato so vigorous that we watched it grow with admiration and wonder. By the time we enjoyed its huge, absolutely delicious fruits (the earliest to bear, since the plant had sprouted in January), we were sold on the benefits of composting.

Moving to a solar-oriented, organic-only community in Davis, and working in the Vegetable Crops Cooperative Extension office at the University of California started my grand exploration into science-based gardening research and growing techniques. I now thrill in sharing the glories of gardening through the Common Ground Garden Program, enabling Master Gardeners to help low-income residents throughout Los Angeles County grow and eat more nutritious vegetables and fruits.


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