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Weed It & Reap: Garden Doodles

By: Wendy Irwin, IBG Youth Education Manager | 04/04/2022

Once when I was in school, a teacher who liked my drawings gifted me a large sheet of beautiful, heavyweight artist paper. Nice drawing paper isn’t cheap, and for years I carefully stored that sheet with my art supplies and waited to use it. I’ve made a lot of art since my school days, but I never did use that paper.

Note to self: Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.

Blank space can be daunting, whether it is an empty page, an empty screen, or an empty patch of ground. As we enter the 2022 gardening season, take heart – and a seed of inspiration – from these Treasure Valley gardeners who have joyfully embraced the challenge of creating something from nothing.

(Empty garden bed in the IBG Vegetable Garden)

ELIZABETH: GARDENING FOR THE HOME CHEF

Elizabeth Dickey, Idaho Botanical Garden’s Education and Visitor Engagement Director, is the kind of person who is always trying out a new recipe. Back when she lived in California, Elizabeth participated in a cooking club with a group of friends. When she moved to Idaho, Elizabeth found a new way to apply her hobby.

“My first home’s yard was built on converted farmland,” she says. “It had bare soil, an irrigation system, and a fence. Because I had never gardened in my life, I found that bare slate daunting. My love for cooking helped me narrow my planting choices down. I would plant a lawn for my young children to play on, and everything else would be edible. I would not be required to eat everything, but the possibility needed to be there. My front yard became an herb garden with lavender and sage shrubs, roses, and a jujube tree. In the back, I built raised vegetable beds and planted grape vines, fruit trees, and currant bushes.”

EDIBLE PLANT HIGHLIGHT: Every year Elizabeth brings coworkers her jujubes, strange yet appealing fruits that look like dates and taste like apples.

EDIBLE PLANT GARDEN TIPS: Elizabeth loves her herb garden and mentions it particularly when talking about her home space. If you don’t know much about cooking or herbs, try Pinterest!

Herbs aren’t just for cooking. Include them in flower bouquets for their scent and style. Culinary sage’s pebbly leaves and bronze fennel’s lacy, dark leaves will give your bouquets a lovely textural boost. If you don’t use everything you grow, that’s okay! Many herbs, like basil, have flowers that are attractive to pollinators. They’ll make use of your plants even if you don’t.

KRISTIN: WATERWISE GARDENING

Kristin Little’s first home garden project began with the removal of some overgrown conifer trees. In her newly empty yard, she started playing around with native and low water use plants. What began as a lupine (Idaho native) here and a hummingbird trumpet (Oregon and SW US native) there grew into more than a hobby. Today Kristin is the horticulturist managing IBG’s upper gardens, including the Lewis and Clark and Western Waterwise Gardens.  

WATERWISE GARDEN HIGHLIGHTS: Kristin is fascinated by native plants that double as edible landscaping. Golden currant is a low water-use shrub with cheerful yellow flowers that appear early in the spring. Its sweet orange berries are tasty and were noted by Meriwether Lewis during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

WATERWISE GARDEN TIPS: Boise is a semi-desert, averaging 11.5 inches of precipitation annually. Native plants that grow here often survive with minimal access to water, making them a practical choice for home gardeners. Don’t let the brown scrub you see from the highway mislead you, either — Native plants come in a rainbow of colors and do plenty else besides, from adding to your edible landscaping to providing habitat for pollinators.

(Early spring budding on mahonia repens in IBG’s Western Waterwise Garden)

JULI: COMMUNITY GARDENING FOR PEOPLE AND POLLINATORS

Juli Bokenkamp has been managing the Meridian Co-Op Gardeners at Kleiner Park for nearly a decade. This garden was never a traditional community garden space with individual plots, but rather a shared space that a group of people took care of together. The space didn’t feel like a community at first. Garden members worked when they could, and the entire group only came together when a harvest was scheduled. Garden members said that they “never saw anyone out there.” When Juli instituted team work days at the garden, people became acquainted and had more fun.

The Kleiner Park community garden was meant to grow produce, but over time it expanded to include no till zones with some plantings to encourage pollinator communities. A few years ago, the group created a larger pollinator garden space. The gardeners have since counted 20 different insect and bee species in the garden!

COMMUNITY GARDEN HIGHLIGHT: Juli reports that that the Richardson’s penstemon in their pollinator garden is “covered with everything flying.”

COMMUNITY GARDEN TIPS: Even if you aren’t planning a pollinator garden, you can still create habitat for pollinators by planting a few things around the edges of your space.

You don’t have to belong to a community garden to discover community. Put some time and love into your front yard, if you have one, and you will find yourself striking up conversations with the people on your street. Every time I’ve lived somewhere and started a garden, I’ve gotten to know my neighbors, something that never used to happen when I lived in apartments. If you don’t have a yard of your own, reach out to a friend or to the community to see if somebody would be interested in sharing their yard in exchange for a gardening helper.

Don’t let lack of space or a blank space hold you back from starting a garden this year. The weeds certainly don’t, and maybe we could learn a lesson from them. So, go! Get out and explore. Discover a cool new plant and get ridiculously excited about it. Meet your neighbors. Build a space that fits your needs, and watch that space evolve with you over time.

Gardens can be works of art, but maybe it’s better to think of them as sketchbooks to doodle in.

(The Meridian Co-Op Garden at Kleiner Park)

First published in the Idaho Press on April 3rd, 2022. 

Idaho Press Article