My name is Jennifer and having past my 60th birthday, I needed something to keep me out of trouble as I contemplate not having to work all day, every day. In all honesty, I have been slowly drifting into this for the past few years, working from home where it doesn’t matter what time of day I get dressed or brush my hair. I grew up in England and always enjoyed looking around the grounds of the stately homes and magical places like Key Gardens, but had not felt the urge to do much gardening myself, even after I bought my first house. That was because I was a nerd and spent my waking hours tinkering with some hardware or software or working all hours of the day and night for the startup offshoot from my University.
My passion with gardening started many years ago, growing a few herbs in pots in the house I was renting in California. The company I worked for in England got bought by an American company and I persuaded them to transfer me for two years. I never went back. I wanted to put that California garden to rights, but wasn’t quite sure how, nor was I inclined to do that in a rental. Everything changed when I move to Oregon in 1991 and had a place of my own – over an acre of it! Don’t panic, I told myself.
A tiny fraction of that land was tamed, and that was enough to make one want to put two fingers down the throat. Can I talk about tacky! They even proudly had a painted jockey as the centerpiece along with a broken fountain and a headless concrete deer. I started trying to expand the area that was tamed and though I was making progress, questions remained in my mind. I was putting in some bones and structure as well as keeping up the silly little summer planting beds, but I really didn’t have much of a clue. I started taking evening classes in horticulture at Clackamas Community College. I soon found out that I had a knack for growing stuff and for design. As soon as I was told I was doing the right things I gained some confidence and before long I was helping the teachers point the younger students in the right direction.
After 15 years in that garden, life events made me move to a house in the suburbs that came with a tiny plot for a garden. All of the gardens around me were bordered with fences, had their lawns in the middle with planting beds around the edge. All of the front yards had been planted with builder basic plants that all looked the same and were all about the same height. It backed onto a greenspace, which is one of the reasons I wanted to call it home. I wanted to do something different and set pen to paper as I planned out the garden. How do you create movement in a small square yard? How do create the notions of different spaces? This was made more difficult by the fact that the yard sloped down such that the entirety of the yard was visible from the back stoop.
Another problem was that I was currently out of permanent work thanks to the 2008 downturn and so the budget was highly restricted. Luckily, that gave me a lot of free time and I found out that you can buy a lot of rock at a fairly low price and build retaining walls if you are willing to put in the effort yourself. One thing I very quickly learned while doing this is to not buy cheap wheelbarrows. Hauling four tons of rock down slopes, steps and around obstacles takes it toll and I destroyed two wheelbarrows in the process before I actually bought one that was up to the task. Also during that period, I started to write and found out that I was quite good at it – well, at least the explaining concepts parts. It took me three attempts to pass my English “O-level” exam. I finished up writing seven books – all technical, as well as many papers and articles for high-tech companies. Eventually I got employed by one of the largest publications in the industry and now considered to be a journalist. Thank heavens I have editors for that work – you will have to put up with all of my silly grammar mistakes!
I was proud of that garden, and I know that the current residents continue to enjoy the space that I created. I even got married in that yard after our preferred place informed us that they were not licensed for weddings. It all turned out perfectly!
After we returned from our honeymoon, I saw a house online and I just knew that was where I wanted to live. It was on the coast in Oceanside, Oregon – one of my favorite coastal towns. Off the beaten path with magnificent scenery, out of any tsunami danger and the views – oh the views. There are only two rooms in this house that do not have an unobstructed view of the the Three Arch Rocks – the first wildlife protected area west of the Mississippi. But I was not ready to create a garden there. I saw the challenges as too big for me to take on. It didn’t take long before my curiosity took over and I started to explore if it would even be possible, let alone practical. After purchasing a plant here and a plant there, I soon needed to start clearing some land to put in my new acquisitions.
If you have an interesting story about how you got into garden, please share it in the comments. My story continues here.