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Activities / Children / Colorado Livin'

Gardening Mama: Here Comes Summer!

I am one of the world’s worst gardeners – not for a lack of desire though. I want to have a lush landscape of flowers in every color of the rainbow, butterfly’s gracefully swooping from one magnificent bloom to the next, luxuriant deep green grass in which to wiggle my toes. I want to have a thriving jungle in my back yard with vegetables in every color of the rainbow, harmless yellow bees buzzing from one zucchini blossom to the next tomato blossom, carrots to munch on every hour of every summer day. But, sigh, my front lawn is mostly dirt this year as my kids sledded heavily on sparse snow taking all the tender brown scrub that wanted to be my lush green lawn. My backyard is only slightly better.

Despite the dry, brown appearance of what truly is the ugliest front yard on my street, in my heart I believe that I can have a magazine-cover-beautiful yard, both front and back. Counting the number of gardening books and catalogs on my bookshelf (both my husband and I have read each and every one of them) and the number of seed packets stored in my refrigerator you would think that we are a family with massive green thumbs giving away a tremendous pile of zucchini and tomatoes every year and cut flowers in beautiful vases covering every counter and table in my house. No, people give me their excess zucchini which I happily whip up into bread and the flowers on the table are fake because my 7-year-old daughter loves to play with them.

Don’t get me wrong, we have flowers in the front yard – a lavender look-alike that was planted over 10 years ago (the age of the plant is my excuse for forgetting its name) is still growing strong and fills a large space in the front planter, a large yellow yarrow sits happily under my front window planted in honor of my beloved cat who passed away many years ago, and we even have two miniature rose bushes. In the back yard we have created five raised beds from recycled wood and fences, a large compost bin made from recycled pallets and an heirloom pink rose bush that, over the years, has grown to a massive 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Every year we are able to make several salads with fresh greens, eat a few carrots, and top off our burgers with deep red tomatoes dripping with sweet homegrown flavor.

The ugliest garden on the block is still jubilant in its small successes. However given our available space, the vast amount of knowledge gleaned from books, catalogs and watching Victory Garden over the past 25 years or so, I feel that the small chlorphyll-rich successes we’ve been able to convince to grow to fruition is only a tease of what could be. If Mel Bartholomew, The Square Foot Gardner, can feed a family throughout the summer in just a few 4 ft x 4 ft planters then couldn’t I feed the entire block with my five raised beds? We should, in theory, be able to produce much more than we do.

So what happens between the happy excitement in April and May – where both kids and adults are eager to put seeds in every nook and cranny of the yard that has a trace of dirt or dust, the joy of seeing tomato and broccoli plants at the garden center, the pure thrill of digging into that cool, dark brown, life-giving soil – and the dismal, brown mass of withered plants that is my back yard by July?

Maybe we become impatient by the end of May waiting for plants to pop up through the dirt. We have visions of deep maroon beets, stunning red tomatoes, crisp green bush beans and look for an immediate fulfillment that won’t live up to our expectations and I think we start to feel a let down. We are in such a hurry to see the fruits and vegetables of our labors that we forget to appreciate the slow process of growth. We forget to embrace the mundane daily chores of watering and weeding. We ultimately lose touch with the zen beauty of nurturing our plants to harvest. By mid-July I think we are, along with the plants, are withered by the Colorado heat!

This year, mark my words, this year will be different. This year:

  • I pledge to water the garden daily, twice daily if needed even if I have to employ the use of my Blackberry calendar feature and raised allowances to remember to do it.
  • I pledge to visit my garden daily (even if my husband and kids have already watered) and enjoy it!
  • I pledge to take a moment every day and find something beautiful in my garden – front or back.
  • I pledge to use the fruits and vegetables of our labors in at least one meal a day (growth and harvest willing).
  • I pledge to share the fruits and vegetables of our labors with our neighbors and gardening friends (again growth and harvest willing).
  • I pledge to find one new recipe featuring a fruit or vegetable of our labor, make a the dish and share the success or failure of said creation.
  • I pledge to talk to my gardening friends more and find out what they are doing in their gardens, what is working for them and what is not working for them.
  • I pledge to visit other successful gardens throughout the summer to keep the gardening spark alive in me and remind myself that lush, green, gorgeous gardens do really happen.
  • I pledge to do all this not alone but with the enthusiasm of my family.

Today the children raked the leaves off the raised beds and added new top soil. My daughter planted seeds of sunflowers and bachelor buttons with her father. The cat joined the fun by exploring the small forest of lily’s that have taken the initiative to grow up through the neglected dirt. The spring planting fest has begun, the energy is here, the desire has been waiting all winter and I am over joyed to see dirt under the fingernails of the entire family! We have no shortage of enthusiasm today. The challenge is to maintain the energy and joy throughout the summer months to see a bountiful harvest!

As the Gardening Mama, right here on The Denver Post’s I want to share the real, every day mom’s who dig, plant and water with their families throughout the season in the hopes of harvesting at least one edible food item by the end of summer. This summer I will highlight the work of real mamas, real families gardening because they love it and help those who read their story’s stay inspired. This isn’t the glossy cover of a magazine gardening but the gardening of people who live in your neighborhood who try just as hard as you to make something grow and enjoy eating it!

With the help of my pledge now made into a public declaration on Mile High Mamas this May-time idealism has translated into embarking on a summer journey into the mind, the heart and the actual gardens of Mile High Mama gardeners. Together let’s grow our gardens, our experience and our successes this summer!

Be sure to check back next week when I take you through the garden of Heidi – of Aurora, not the Swiss Alps!

So tell me, Mile High Mama’s what is the first seed or plant that you absolutely can’t wait to get into the ground each and every growing season? I’m curious to hear what is on everyone’s favorite list.

Heather Ruch
Author: Heather Ruch

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  1. I am in the “Black Thumb” category and am married to a gardening god who grows 1,000-pound pumpkins. I need to learn from this column more than anyone!

    • Amber, you’ll have ask that husband of a gardening god (or is a god of a gardening husband?) to share the fairy dust that creates a 1 ton gourd! Impressive! Come October, you must have the most amazing jack-o-lantern and a freezer full of pumpkin pie and bread!

  2. I can’t wait for my herb garden to bounce back each spring! There are a few things I can harvest over the winter–mostly thyme and sage, and a little parsley–but spring brings chives, lots of parsley, spearmint, fennel, cilantro and oregano all coming back on their own. I also indulge in buying a new, huge rosemary plant, because it rarely survives the winter here.

    • Hi Tanya! Your herb garden sounds so lush! I bet the plants smell incredible when you trim them! I’ve yet to try planting or harvesting over winter – on purpose. Two years ago we had a big volunteer spinach plant up and ready by April. It was a hold out from the previous August and decided to start growing after the snow melted. A lovely surpise!

  3. We’re also enjoying our first year of gardening, both on the patio and in our apt complex’ community garden, which I am documenting, too. It seems like entirely by accident I have become a gardener!

    I love your list, I may adopt part or all of it!

    Very enjoyable read, beautiful writing!

    Much love,

    • Hi Kimberlee! Thanks! You are finding all sorts of places for plants to grow!

      While peeking at your link the pallet garden caught my eye. I may adopt all of that idea! My husband has upgraded our compost pile his year with the use of pallets. I’ll add a picture on my post next week!

      Your garden is lovely! I hope you’ll keep us updated on how your patio containter and community gardens grow this summer.

  4. Great post! Like the commenter above, I have a serious black thumb. I love your garden pledge. I have been working on keeping a similar one of my own. My main issue is with weeds…I think I am going to invest in some landscape fabric to assist with that problem this season. The plant that I most look forward to are tomatoes!

    • Tomatoes are the absolute, hands-down staple of the garden! I look forward to the tomatoes too! Landscape fabric is a wonderful way to keep the weeds at bay. Digging up the garden all at once may not be so appealing at first however the trade off of a day’s work vs. a summer of weeding can make this do-able.

      I find taking the job of weeding a little at a time to work for me. My husband likes to take his coffee out with him when weeding and work only as long as the coffee stays warm!

      Good luck with all the plants! Let us know how your tomatoes do this year!

  5. I am also a “Black Thumb” and you have aroused my true inter – gardener to try again to have the beautiful flowers I dream about every year.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! ! !

    • Let that inner-gardener loose this summer! I hope all your flower dreams come true!

      All of us that say we have a “black thumb”, I think we just haven’t found our botanical match in life! Keep trying and I’m certain you’ll find a plant that can thrive under your tender care!

  6. This sounds like the kind of manifesto I could hang on my gate to inspire myself and my hubby to get out in our yard. We have been drowning out here in California, but now that the sun has made an appearance, I too hope to get some things growing again (and I intend to use your hubby’s weeding idea with my own coffee addicted man). Thanks for the inspiration- I hope veggies are in our future!

    • A big coffee cup = more hubby weeding 🙂

      California has been hit hard by the rain this year, again! Out here in Colorado, I’ve heard that berries will be sparse soon – a large percentage of the country’s produce comes from CA. Hopefully your harvest will only be delayed and not destroyed by all the moisture!

      Having lived the first half of my life in California, I can attest that it is not always sunny! Good luck Gina!

  7. Hey Heather,

    Great post! I think we can all relate to losing momentum when we don’t immediately see the rewards. I can’t wait to see what your gardening adventures bring up! Hopefully you’ll share some of that goodness with us at the store 😉

    My husband got pretty excited when I brought home some plants. He decided to throw every seed we had into the planter–flowers, arugula, peppers, onions, etc… It now is super green on our balcony, but I think nothing will really flourish due to being over-crowded. How nice it must be to have plenty of room to plant!! Maybe next year our little balcony will be more successful.

    Look forward to reading more of your posts!

    • Hi Sara! I will certainly whip up a batch of zucchini bread as soon as the goods are ripe!

      How cute is your husband getting so enthusiastic, albeit over-zealous, about the garden! Thinning the plants can help to sort out and give space for those plants to thrive! Personally, I have a hard time thinning the plants as I keep thinking that I’ve wasted a carrot or head of lettuce. However, crowded plants don’t produce very much.

      Good luck with your container garden!

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