Learning to garden in the Pacific Northwest

IMG_0006Story and photos by Nicole Vettese

When I was growing up in Colorado, weeding the garden was the chore I liked least. I hated the sunburns and the raw itchiness of my skin after pulling weeds. It has taken 20 years for that feeling to completely reverse.

Buying a house this past spring meant I could finally plant my own garden, and pulling weeds in my garden feels less like a chore than an accomplishment. Now, I have gardening on the mind all the time.

Washington is much more lush and green than anywhere I have previously lived. Every house I walk by gives me new ideas: raised garden beds, raspberry bushes and flowering vines. When I find myself cleaning dirt from under my fingernails after planting something new or even just pulling weeds, I now find myself smiling.

While growing up I may have hated pulling weeds but I always loved our garden. When I was five, I helped a group of friends completely consume my mother’s spinach section of her garden like crazed rabbits. I now only hope I can learn enough about gardening to grow that much spinach and other wonderful plants.IMG_0028-2

But as enthusiastic as I get, I know I have a lot to learn. I’ve gotten advice from neighbors and friends, but my ultimate source of information has been the local library. The internet provided me quick answers, but the library allows me to find comprehensive information and actually learn about the process of gardening.

When I was initially trying to decide the cheapest and most effective way to build my garden the Internet gave me false information, but the books from the library told me what I needed to know.

I have taken what I have learned and find that I just need to pay attention to my garden and the world around me. I have to restrain myself from over-watering. I compulsively follow the weather report now to see if I really need to water, but I also simply go outside more often and check on my plants.

My gardening style is all about trial and error. I’ve planted peppers three separate times and have only in the last week had anything grow. I’m currently allowing some weeds to grow by the shed, but I have no idea what they are or if they’re doing harm to the yard.

The only thing I have tasted from the garden so far is one tiny strawberry, but that was so exciting that I split the strawberry in half so my husband could have a bite. Patience will certainly pay off when I am able to make a full spinach salad just from my tiny garden.

The most important thing I have discovered through gardening is the connection it gives me with my community. I have frequently shopped in the local farmer’s market and at the Community Food Co-op and have developed a strong belief in the importance of supporting local agriculture.

The ongoing journey of learning to garden allows me to be part of this. I will likely never be fully dependent on my garden for produce, but I am doing my part to sustain our environment.

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