How I started gardening
I began gardening when my mother turned me loose in the flower and vegetable garden as a child. Mom had nerves of steel and believed in learning by doing. By the time I was in high school, I planted and cared for the family vegetable garden. The flower garden also fell under my jurisdiction as a gardening bonus. And while I weeded and cared for the vegetables, I loved the flowers and shrubs in the yard.
Vegetables for the body, flowers for the soul
The same still holds true fifty years later. I plant a vegetable garden because I like the flavor and variety in the summer that a vegetable garden offers. But it is the flower beds and borders that I love. I think gardeners choose the vegetables that they enjoy and the ones that grow well for them. So while I may write about techniques, I rarely talk about vegetable varieties.
High country gardening
As an adult, my first gardening experience took place in the high desert country of southwestern Wyoming. Snow could still be found in the meadows on Memorial Day and people put anti-freeze in their cars and trucks by the middle of August. Short growing seasons and long, cold winters were the norm near Ft. Bridger, Wyoming. Gardening was mostly a lesson in attrition. Just as I was beginning to get the hang of gardening at 6,000 feet, understanding what could and could not grow, we moved to southeastern Idaho.
Still lots to learn
Two years in a more benign climate gave greater scope to my gardening hopes. I started seeds and brought plant starts from friends, family and neighbors.
Room to experiment
Another move found the family in Rupert, a part of south central Idaho. With a new home and a bare acreage, the gardening juices really started pumping. The first growing season in the new home found me on my knees planting 300 baby trees, planting a vegetable garden, laying out the basics of the garden, planting grass, planning beds and borders, and moving starts of favorite plants from family, friends and neighbors again.
I began a writing career with a local newspaper in the 80s. I joke that I have written for most of the publications in the area, but it is the truth. I was asked to write a weekly column on a topic of my choice for the Minidoka County News. Another writer was writing a cooking column already. I'm pretty apolitical until it gets to the ballot box and couldn't see myself sustaining enough enthusiasm over a long period of time to write a political opinion piece every week.
So I turned to what I knew best -- gardening. And as luck would have it, I had just finished taking the Master Gardening Program, offered through the University of Idaho Extension office.
Wood Knot, Green Knees, Fifty-Plus, and a syndicated column
I wrote the 'Wood Knot' column for the Minidoka County News for almost ten years; the 'Green Knees' column for Farm Times for five years. I also wrote a syndicated garden column for Senior Wire News and was published in publications from the Eastern seaboard to the Pacific and from Florida to Alaska. I joke that I have been published in all forty-eight contiguous states, unfortunately not all in the same month. I wrote a garden column for Fifty-Plus Living, published in the Treasure Valley area of Idaho and one for Western Ag Reporter, published in Northern Idaho.
I am an Advanced Master Gardener. I managed the Master Gardener Plant Clinics in Minidoka and Cassia counties for the University of Idaho Extension offices for five years. I teach classes on perennials, zone hardiness, herbs, pruning, vegetable growing, container gardening and give programs to civic organizations and church affiliated groups. In January and February of 2009 I taught two four week gardening enrichment courses at the College of Southern Idaho, Burley campus.
My garden year starts in late January when I start early varieties of seeds in my greenhouse and it ends when everything is tucked into the greenhouse for the winter.
Then the dreaming over the catalogs begins! And another year dawns on the horizon.
When the greenhouse was just a dream, I pictured a greenhouse with ripening tomatoes in December and January. The reality proved to be harder than the dream. Growing through one of our winters requires more heat than I am willing to allocate to it. So for the really frigid months of winters, the greenhouse stays in a holding pattern.
I garden in USDA zone 5-6 in the Intermountain West. Summer irrigation is a must. Our soil tends to be sandy loam or clay loam. The last frost date is around May 20th and gardeners can expect a light frost around Labor Day. For five years, the fall killing-frost waited until late October. October 2009 brought 14-inches of snow on October 10th and temperatures down to 14 degrees. Dealing with the weather is always an adventure here in Idaho.
Snow on the ground is a blessing during the winter as it helps insulate plants. The area suffers from drought periodically. The soil and water tend to be alkaline.
Oh yes! The real killer in this area is the spring wind. The wind can blow for days on end and frequently howls through the region between 20 to 40 m.p.h. If your plants survived the winter, they may not survive the spring.
In the greenhouse, I carry over geraniums and have dozens of rose and shrub cuttings in the process of rooting. In late January and early February I start perennials and early cold-loving annuals. In March I start the rest of my seeds and continue until late April. Then comes the rush to get everything in the ground and maintain it through the summer months.
I began writing a new weekly garden column published in the Weekly News Journal in 2009, published in the Mini-Cassia, Idaho area. I continue to answer local gardening questions, although there is no longer a formal plant clinic. Each spring I take a couple of extra Advanced Master Gardener classes. And of course, I continue to read gardening books looking for more information on perennials and landscaping techniques.