What my grandmother taught me about gardening has made getting dirty, fun for the whole family. Anyone that knew my grandmother, knew her for uncanny ability to grow anything. It may have helped that she lived in the fertile rich coastal soils of northern California, but she was able to take gardening to a whole new level.
Plants didn’t just grow in her garden, they thrived. You may think she spent hours toiling over them, fertilizing, clipping and watering them with great tender loving care. That wasn’t her secret. Although she did do a little of that, she mostly left the plants alone to do what comes naturally…grow.
My aunt’s frustration would mount after many long hours of amending the soil, setting up irrigation and spraying for pests only to have her garden produce a lackluster crop. She would peer over to my grandmother’s garden and see this unruly robust edible utopia. You could see the steam coming from her ears as she pondered this enigma.
And then one fine day, my grandmother gave me this jewel of information on growing plants, and maybe even children. She only helped the plants when they showed signs of needing it. She was the master of set it and forget it.
Grandma laid the foundation for the plants to thrive, and then let them do their thing. She didn’t fuss over them, she didn’t nurture their every need. She just let them grow, and grow they did.
Now, I have my own garden. Nothing fancy, nothing special, just some amazing fruits and vegetables to eat every season. I don’t concern myself with keeping on top of the weeds or pruning the plants to perfection. I just plant the seeds or seedlings and let them grow, but the scientist in me wanted to know why this worked so well, so I took a day off each week and observed what was happening to this flourishing untamed garden, and I found a few things that explained the success of my unruly garden.
One, the bugs and slugs spent so much time eating the plants in between my edibles, they rarely got to the good stuff. And the leaves and debris that fell onto my garden, became excellent mulch for a solid nutrient base lasting season after season. I also found that the birds liked to pick through this layer in search of critters to eat. These lovely natural predators kept many of the nasty bugs at bay.
No fertilizers, no sprays, and thanks to the spring rain of the Pacific Northwest, no extra water needed. We just enjoy the wonderful food that comes every year.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. I live in an area where it’s easy to grow anything. Well, yes and no. You have to know where to place your plants for optimum sun exposure and water. Here in the Pacific Northwest, some areas are really soggy, great for cranberries. Some areas are really dry and hot, best for artichokes. Know your soil, temperature, and water around your garden, select regional plants, set it and forget it.
Too simplistic maybe, but it works for me and worked for my grandmother, or maybe we just have special powers over the plant world.