Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Introducing the Garden and Gardener

I thought at this early stage of blogging I should tell you a bit more
about the garden side of things.

Firstly, the gardener, who is mostly me at this stage. I'm not one of those people who loved gardening from the time I first picked up a shovel. As a child living in Hobart I grew various bits and pieces- wall flowers, a blackwood tree, plumbago and peas come to mind. But nothing quite got my attention, until one August when, aged 18, I was cutting a pumpkin and decided to see what happened if I put the seeds in some potting mix on the kitchen windowsill. They germinated, I was determined to see what came next. My mother offered me a crummy corner of the garden, probably thinking that my interest in this garden project would wane as it always had previously. For some reason, it didn't, and that year I grew pumpkins and zucchinis. And I was hooked.

The next year I claimed a better space for my pumpkins, and built retaining walls so that they could grow in a metre depth of rotted sheep manure. With the encouragement of my friend and garden mentor, J, more varieties of edibles crept in, and in my third year of serious gardening I was a member of the Digger's Club, and experimenting with vegetables from aubergines to zucchinis.

Then I moved to Melbourne.

Melbourne isn't a desert- it's even the capital Australia's self-proclaimed "garden state". But as a graduate student, time and space for vegetable gardening weren't forthcoming. One summer I grew potted vegetables in a west-facing courtyard of my rental property, but long days at work meant that I wasn't there for the vegies when it hailed or when they were roasted by summer heat. B's parents kindly let me plant a few things in their vegie plot one year (and nurtured them in my absence) but it wasn't the same.

And then we moved to Denver, Colorado. This wasn't such a dramatic upheaval to my horticultural habits as moving to Melbourne had been- we moved from one garden-less apartment to another. I did join my apartment building's garden committee, meaning I helped out at some working bees, and took responsibility for a planting pot about a metre in diameter over one summer. I filled it with herbs and Habanero chillis, and it thrived with the aid of daily watering by the building's janitor. I harvested and used or stored stored all the herbs I could, and it felt good.

Back in Melbourne, and with a new addition to the family, B and I now needed a place with space for Big Bro to run around- and so we ended up here, at our house-with-a-garden.

We live on an old fashioned quarter acre block in the suburbs of
Melbourne. Our house is like most in the area, with a front, back and
side yard, and our garden plan for the front and back involves a
central lawn surrounded by beds.

Most of the garden structure was put in after the previous owners
renovated the houses few years ago, and it has left us some
interesting surprises- patches of building sand or mortar amongst
areas of clay and a drier dustier soil; concrete foundations for
former structures, brick retaining walls and pipes that presumably
used to lead to long-extinct taps; the remnants of rubbish middens
revealing our predecessors to be consumers of oysters and breakers of
china and glass. My favourite item that we have unearthed is a
yellow toy car, circa 1950?

The jumble of soil types in the garden has been a challenge for me. My
first summer was close to a horticultural disaster- as soon as the hot
weather hit, many plants I had eagerly planted shrivelled in the water-
repellant soil. A year after we moved in I realised that some patches of soil were so horticulturally repugnant that plants put in by the previous owners hadn't sent roots further than the pot-shaped confines of the potting mix in which they were planted. Since then I have enriched the soil with organic matter in the hopes of improving things. Two years on, I think I can say we're getting there.

So what sort of gardener am I?

Growing edible plants has been my first passion, but now that I am in charge of a whole garden I am gradually learning more about ornamentals. And now that we've established ourselves somewhere for the long haul I have an interest in my garden's infrastructure- especially irrigation.

I'm definitely an amateur gardener- I couldn't name all the plants in our garden, and I'm sure I stun the local nursery with the dumbness of some of my questions. If you're a serious gardener reading this blog, you'll probably be stunned by my naivety too! But I love getting out in the garden and poking around, and I love the sense of satisfaction that I have when I say to B "did you realize we grew everything we ate for dinner tonight" So if you have the same reasons for hosting the chemical reactions that are photosynthesis on your patch of dirt, then I hope you'll enjoy sharing the gardening journey of This Growing Life.

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