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Weed It & Reap: Growing A Gardener

By: Nell Frazer Lindquist, IBG Greenhouse and Nursery Coordinator | 03/10/2022

Working at the Idaho Botanical Garden, we often hear, “I can’t do what you do: I’m not a professional gardener!”

While it’s flattering to be considered experts, we want everyone to feel that gardening is accessible to them. Even “experts” had to start somewhere on their gardening journey. This month, we’re sharing a few of our garden origin stories – our trials and triumphs, and the lessons we’ve learned along the way.

Our journeys to become garden professionals followed similar paths: as children our fascination with nature was encouraged by older family members. I realize now what a lucky child I was to have a father who grew things from seed. It was not elaborate or high tech: every spring my dad bought one of those Jiffy windowsill greenhouses and some seeds and, together, we would sow them. I can’t even remember what we grew, but I remember the time spent with my dad.

Other members of the IBG staff share similar stories: “My love of plants started when I was young – growing up in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, wandering through my grandmother’s garden, and helping my aunt make flower arrangements. I chose to go to a horticulture high school and that sealed my fate!” And, “my parents are gardeners so when we were kids we were always outside. They really encouraged us to get our hands dirty.”

Any garden professional is all too aware that gardening is both an art and a science. As young gardeners, or new transplants from other places, we’ve all had humbling moments with just how much there was to learn.


Nell’s Story

My gardening education began in Central Texas, a solid zone 8b according to the USDA plant hardiness zone map. I had a shaded bed near my front porch that seemed ideal for hostas (“hardy in zones 3-9”!) and I soon filled the space with an assortment of these beauties.

I learned that while College Station, Texas — with over 40 inches of rain per year, 75% average humidity, 30 plus days of 100-degree temperatures, summer drought, and alkaline black clay soil — was zone 8b, it was not a favorable environment for hostas. Mine struggled, despite my pampering. I visited a friend in Seattle, and I saw HOSTAS. They were huge! They were glorious! Seattle is also zone 8b, so what was going on? Both cities are in the same cold hardiness zone, but Seattle’s overall climate is temperate with more hosta-friendly soils.

That was first of many “ah ha” moments. Lesson: Thou shalt not garden by zone alone.

I learned there were so many more considerations for successful growing, such as soil type, summer temperatures, humidity, and bed location.


Wendy’s Story

My garden journey began with one specific plant, but my colleague, Wendy Irwin, IBG Youth Education Manager, wanted to grow it all!

“The first time I had a yard of my own was the year my son was born. It was spring, I was home, and I had time: three good reasons to try something new. I didn’t know much about gardening. Kneeling by a garden box and clutching a packet of radish seeds, (“Great for early planting! Fast to grow!”) I remembered the sad fates of neglected houseplants and crisped apartment balcony greenery. What if my seeds didn’t sprout? Deciding to err on the side overcrowding, I tipped the entire packet of seeds out into the soil. Surely something would grow. 

The wonderful thing about gardening is that so many plants DO grow, given the slightest amount of encouragement. The radish sprouts grew in fast and thick and I thinned them, feeling slightly surprised at their tenacity. By mid-summer my garden was a small jungle, with tomato plants as tall as me, rows of rainbow carrots, and a basil patch that was always in need of a haircut. My zucchini plants lived up to their reputation, and one of my earliest pictures of my son is of him in one arm, an overgrown zucchini in the other.

Not everything worked out, but my first garden was still a success. I loved the produce I grew that summer, and I loved seeing the backyard turn into a green retreat. Since that year, I’ve always had a garden. And just about every year, I take a picture of my kid with the zucchinis.”


Anni’s Story

For some garden professionals, moving to a new area presents challenges and opportunities. Anni Jack, IBG’s Adult Education Coordinator, found there was a lot to learn about gardening in her new home.

“Upon moving to Boise’s high desert climate, I knew I needed some new knowledge and experience – I killed my acidic-loving Oregon plant babies. A whole lot of trial and error, completion of the Master Gardening program, volunteering, IBG classes, garden tours, a whole lot of observation, and more than a few library visits, I learned that I am always going to be learning, and I love it.”


Michele’s Story

Even IBG’s Horticulture Director, Michele Lesica, has learned through trial and error.

“I worked for a grower who specialized in hostas. I didn’t have much shade where I was living, so I put them in pots and tested them out on a mostly shady porch. I played around with how much water I gave them and tested their drought tolerance. Some could handle it some couldn’t. Horticulture is one giant science experiment and it’s fun to push the boundaries. Even plant people kill plants.


Ultimately the rewards of gardening outweigh any struggles – and there will be struggles!

Don’t be afraid to try, to fail, and to try again.

 

First published in the Idaho Press on March 6th, 2022. 

Idaho Press Article