by Spike Gillespie
Years ago I heard about a guy who was trying to learn to cook and he came across a recipe that instructed him to separate the eggs. Separate the eggs? He had no idea what this meant. Separate large from small? Brown from white? The point being that unless someone explains things clearly, sometimes we can be baffled by instructions that other people find clear and simple.
How does this relate to gardening and me? Since I was a little kid, I’ve grown things. My mom had a big vegetable garden every summer—not a mere pastime but a way to feed nine kids. Besides her big garden, she encouraged us to grow mini-plots, which mostly featured green beans, since they were pretty easy to cultivate. When I went out into the world on my own, springtime often found me planting a few tomatoes, some peppers, a few herbs– the usual summer fare. At some point, I learned about box gardens and started building them from scraps wood—salvaged fence posts, old lumber picked up curbside from neighbors throwing the stuff away.
These gardens were pretty hit or miss. I didn’t pay much attention to the sunlight factor. Sometimes I’d forget to water enough. And then there were those occasional Texas summers when the rain seemed to just keep coming. So often my plants succumbed to either too much or not enough light and water. Ultimately I was wasting a lot of money buying soil and starter plants that didn’t yield much mostly due to my own ignorance and lack of diligence—when it came to gardening properly, I had to admit I didn’t know how to “separate the eggs” so to speak.
Fast forward to a few months ago. I was visiting a friend who has stunning box gardens. I mean, they looked like they came from the set of a TV show aimed at home gardeners. I quizzed her about her sudden green thumb—I hadn’t known her to be a gardener. And that’s when I found out about YardFarm. She explained that Zach and his team came out, installed the beds, planted the gardens and— this was the part that excited me most—put in a drip irrigation system on a timer. I coveted her bounty, her daily opportunity to step outside and pick fresh ingredients for dinner. She suggested I stop coveting and have YardFarm do their magic at my house, too.
So I called Zach and asked him to come look at my box garden, which, frankly, had seen better days. I wondered if he might get it going for me. And, more importantly, I wondered if he might reveal his magic and educate me so that I could stop putting in crops that seemed doomed to fail come mid-July.
The more we walked around and talked, the more excited we both got. Now, I know some people have very specific ideas about how they want their gardens to look, what they hope to grow, and where they want to place them. I also know that Zach is happy to work with these plans. But in my case, I came to the table a blank slate. I asked Zach to tell me what he really thought was best.
A week or so after his visit, Zach showed up with a design that didn’t just meet but surpassed my greatest dreams. This included a fenced-off area of the yard that would still allow my dogs room to run, but would prevent them from tromping through the garden. As for the garden itself, instead of one big box, as I’d had before, he suggested three beds that were longer and narrower. This would allow me access to the veggies without stepping foot on the soil, which packs it down and isn’t good for the plants. All the beds would be irrigated, eliminating my hit-or-miss watering “style.”
The plan thrilled me. Soon, Zach and his team showed up and got to work. There was much digging, board cutting, and soil toting. Over the course of a week or two, my backyard underwent the sort of transformation usually reserved for heroines in Disney movies. Up went the fences with gates made from repurposed lumber salvaged from the old box garden. In went the new boxes, the drip system, the timer. And then the plants. Not just tomatoes and peppers, but greens of all sorts, lettuces, spinach, beets, and even some edible flowers.
Along the way I asked questions—a lot of them. I’m curious by nature and a reporter by trade, so questions pretty much define my existence. Zach was beyond patient, offering detailed answers, a real Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle. I wound up with more than bountiful beds—I got the education I had hoped for when we first started discussing the transformation.
Zach still comes by regularly, adding in new plants, and teaching me about them. As often as possible—several times per week at least— I let the garden guide me when I’m planning meals. Sometimes I include several freshly harvested ingredients: a salad made from lettuce as sweet as candy, a big dish of mixed greens sautéed with a little garlic and olive oil, a spinach omelet. Other times, maybe I’ll just go for some herbs—a homemade pizza topped with chives and basil. No matter what though, since I started really paying attention to what’s available to me fifteen feet from my back door, I find myself making healthier eating choices overall. At the grocery store I think about what I already have growing, and buy ingredients that will work well with my own crop.
A lot of times in our lives it’s really easier to imagine how we’d like things to be, rather than follow through. Which is why, for example, I can picture myself going to the gym every day and also why I don’t actually do that. But being a gardener—a true gardener growing my own food—turns out to be one of those things I am capable of. I just needed the equivalent of a personal trainer to get me there. And Zach, I can say with gratitude, has truly whipped me into shape.