You can’t ever have too many mentors, at least that’s my opinion. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a mentor is worth 10 thousand. To watch someone regularly do what you would like to do provides both inspiration and information about how to get going in a garden.
I have been fortunate enough to have two garden mentors, one in a little town I lived in for a time in California, one in my little town in France. They both have big, bold, creative gardens that just keep getting better and more interesting over time.
Going Organic in Northern California
Some years back, I was lucky enough to spend time in Trinidad, a little oceanside town in Northern California. I rented a small cabin set in the redwoods. The couple who owned the property – Jeri and Skip – lived nearby and they became neighbors and friends. Jeri also became a garden mentor.
Jeri was both an active veterinarian and a consummate gardener when I first met her. Though retired now from her practice, she still keeps dogs, cats, chickens and at least one goat on the property, and also works one of the largest backyard organic gardens I have ever seen. It was large when I lived in Trinidad and has now grown to perhaps thrice its original size, with raised beds for annual and perennial crops. There is an extensive berry patch covered by netting to protect the fruit from birds, and an incredibly cool greenhouse which allows Jeri to extend her tomato and pea season well into autumn. The chicken coop is also located in a fenced in garden area that the four hens share with three beehives.
Both Jeri and her husband are health nuts and both in great shape. One of the ways they stay that way is by eating organic. Their garden is organic, but it is also gorgeous, inspiring me with its combination of utility and beauty. Flowers share space with edibles, making every walk through the garden a visual delight. It was thanks to Jeri’s example that I always mix flowers and veggies in my own garden and learned the ins and outs of going organic.
Learning By Doing in Basque Country
One of my best friends in France is named Maixan, and she may be the most adventurous gardener I have ever known. Some years back, she and her partner bought land in a housing development. Though these types of subdivisions can be bland and nondescript, Maixan has turned her flat, empty backyard into a wonderland of trees, shrubs, flowers, succulents and garden crops. In the middle of the greenery, there is an outdoor fire pit where friends sit in a circle of an evening, surrounded by leaves and stars.
Native to the area, Maixan was one of the owners of the café in the town center when I met her. Friendly and generous, she knows everyone and is beloved by all. She gets cuttings and gardening advice from everyone and is not afraid to give it a try. She’s planted acorns that are now oak trees as well as numerous fruit trees, a pergola thick with grape vines and a huge cactus that flowers in the summer and is taller than her house.
Almost every time I visit Maixan, I leave with plant cuttings, baskets of fruit or tomatoes and tiny plants that will grow into shrubs. She and her partner travel quite a lot and she always brings back seeds from other countries that all seem to thrive in her backyard. Maixan inspires me to grow plants for the joy of it, a lesson that doesn’t get included in enough gardening classes.