BIT OF MAGIC For greater success in our area’s short growing season, consider renting a garden plot BY LISA NYREN PHOTOGRAPHY BY SUSAN LYKES
TETON HOME and living Spring/Summer 2010
udy Allen and her mother planted a lollipop tree in their yard in Illinois after they had watched an episode of Captain Kangaroo in which the beloved children’s TV-show host did just that. The next day, they found a large tree made of many branches where the single lollipop stick had been planted; on it were growing dozens of lollipops. What kid wouldn’t love that? Now settled in Teton Valley with a family of her own, Allen planted a lollipop tree with her son, Will, for several summers until, as she put it, Will was old enough that “the Scotch® tape was a dead giveaway!”
But Allen doesn’t need tape in her sprawling yard at the mouth of Darby Canyon; anyone can see the magic she sows. It is the magic of a forward-thinking gardener who selected a piece of real estate with finicky precision, the magic of more than a decade of tending the soil, now so rich with nutrients and plant-loving creatures that chemical fertilizer is unnecessary and would be drastically out of place. A favorable microclimate—where geography and weather patterns combine to support cultivation of a green thumb—provides more magic. And Allen is kind enough to share it all with fellow Teton Valley gardeners. Some are experienced, but many just want a good place to begin. In 2008, on a single acre of the family’s fifteen-acre property, Allen began renting garden plots, each just fifty square feet in size. She shares her soil (which meets national certified organic standards), her irrigation system, and, perhaps most importantly,
GARDEN If you prefer to begin by gardening on your own rather than renting a plot, Judy Allen offers these suggestions: a Plant what grows well during the springtime in other places for best success here â€”for example, lettuce greens, root crops, broccoli, and cabbage. a Be sure to plant close to a water source (something so elementary it may be overlooked). a Bust out of the box a little; vegetable gardens do not have to be a rectangle at the far end of the backyard. Instead, plant close to your back porch for easy kitchen access (and for the lovely aromas of herbs as they mature), or gracefully include your produce garden in your landscape design. Some landscapers even put the veggie garden in the front yard. a Include a small area for children and design the garden so they have access to help with the produce-growing. a Understand what microclimates exist around your home: for example, planting next to a south-facing wall will garner much needed sunshine and warmth. a Include where youâ€™ll grow foodstuffs in your overall landscaping plan. a Have your area sited by an expert gardener, who can tell you where specific plants will thrive. a Arrange help to test your soil: in Wyoming, call Kathleen Dertoncelj at (307) 745-4825 (in Laramie at the University Co-operative Services office); in Idaho, call Teton County Extension Agent Ben Eborn at (208) 354-2961.
Spring/Summer 2010 TETON HOME and living
her knowledge, all for just $30 per plot per growing season. Another $5 buys fertilizer and a row cover with stakes to keep it in place. Last summer, six people rented nine plots from Allen, including Susan Lykes, who was quickly convinced of the value of the undertaking. “Find a Judy,” Lykes said. “She’s really amazing!” Although Lykes kept a small garden plot at her home in Victor, the soil was difficult to grow anything in. Then she saw an article in the Teton Valley News about Allen’s rental plots and signed up. At the end of the season, Lykes was amazed at the color, size, and taste of the root vegetables she’d grown. “The biggest surprise was how gorgeous the carrots were,” she said. “I was just totally smitten with the carrots.” Taste was just one improvement; lessening her own carbon footprint was another. She and her husband Mayo always try to buy locally, produce especially. “It seems like [growing locally] is a very easy way to make a difference in the world,” Lykes said. “It’s really nice not to be bringing in things from a long way away.” The shocking truth is that an average meal in the United States travels an estimated 1,500 miles from farm to plate. Food items are often picked unripe to ensure a longer shelf life, with significant environmental impact from processing, packing, and transporting foodstuffs around the country. By gardening, “You’re your own farmer’s market,” Allen said. Lykes agrees. “It’s amazing how your buying habits change [when you grow your own vegetables],” she said. “You can virtually bypass the produce section.” Growing your own has other benefits, too, including the solace found in simply getting your hands dirty. Scientific research indicates that when people have their hands in soil, their brainwave patterns change, Allen notes; in general, gardening has a calming effect. “It’s a real powerful experience,” she said. “We have a connection to the earth [and] gardening returns us to that… For me it’s mainly just that feeling of connecting with the source of my food and producing it myself.” She should know. Allen has spent more than ten years cultivating the soil on 18
TETON HOME and living Spring/Summer 2010
By summer’s end, the tall version of sugar snap peas will grow all the way up a trellis; they taste so sweet that even dogs like them.
her land, ground she deliberately picked for its plant-friendly microclimate. She has her own water setup, ample compost, and chemical-free rodent control. A small solar greenhouse is attached to her home; cherry and pear trees grow outside. A rental plot is an opportunity for those who may not have the time, resources, or know-how to create such an optimal growing environment on their own. Renting is also much less expensive than starting from scratch. Allen’s done all the hard work; essentially all you have to do is plant, pull a few weeds, and reap the rewards. Otherwise, “A garden can be like a construction project that you do every year,” she said (see page 17). Another benefit—gardening is a neighborly activity, Lykes notes. At Allen’s, plot-renters share tips, stories, and plants not only with Judy herself but also with each other. Someone may have extra onion seedlings to give, or offer advice on just how far apart to plant peas. “It’s fun to see what other people are growing,” Lykes said. “It really is such a big educational experience.” For information on reserving one of the eighteen available garden plots at Darby Canyon Gardens—and growing much more than lollipops—call Allen at (208) 354-3199. Jackson Hole Community Gardens also rents garden plots; call (307) 733-3087 to add your name to the waiting list. Spring/Summer 2010 TETON HOME and living