• Claire Marie

On Becoming a Farmer/Gardener


One of the first flowers I remember planting with my mom was chrysanthemums. I don't know where they came from, but mom took a pot of them and split it into multiple pieces with a shovel. Then she showed us (my sister and me) how to use that same shovel to simply push the shovel in the ground, wiggle it back and forth a bit, then shove a stem of chrysanthemum into the hole. After that, we closed the hole by pushing the shovel into the ground next to the original hole to push the dirt up against the stem. We did this along the curve in the driveway to add seasonal color to the yard. I have no recollection of them surviving but we certainly planted them.


As the years passed and we moved to a different house, the focus turned to azaleas, daffodils, and daylilies with a smattering of hydrangeas, magnolia trees, dogwoods, gardenia and aucuba, to name a few. Our yard had tons of shade and very little sun, but mom somehow managed to grow a few roses too. Indoors, there once was a room lined with shelves of African violets - they were once a VERY popular houseplant, but as fads go, it faded long ago. We also had a lemon tree that was shuttled in and out of the house as weather permitted (I even have one now). Thinking back on it, there was a lot more variety than I first thought.


In 5th grade, we had a science project where we grew green beans. That re-sparked my interest in growing veggies and flowers from seed. I tried Marigolds and Sweet Williams, along with various other plants I can't remember. As there weren't many places to grow anything that required a lot of sun, my mom and I whittled it down, growing tomatoes in the sunniest spot of the yard. That was about the time I reached high school. We always bought seedlings and had a plant one year that grew to be over 6 feet tall with fabulous tomatoes!


Then in my early 20s, I married and moved to the country. My in-laws had a huge garden and I spent my first summer of that marriage helping the in-laws pick and preserve veggies. I learned about making jelly. I also learned that squash and okra plants have evil little spikes on the stems that make picking not so fun. After my first time picking squash, I learned to wear a light-weight long-sleeved shirt to prevent the redness - even in horrendous, muggy heat. And, while the spouse and I didn't grow anything ourselves, except a houseplant I managed to kill, I did learn that I loved home grown veggies. That love didn't turn into its current obsession until many years later and a different husband.

Sweet Gum Tree from #$*!

In 2001, my best friend in the world (aka husband) and I bought a house on just over a half acre of property with a HUGE back yard - the whole yard is shaped about like a pentagon with 5 sides. When we looked at the house in November, we fell in love with the back yard and the HUGE old oak tree that pretty much took over the back half of the yard. Unfortunately, it wasn't actually an oak tree - it was a massive sweet gum that started dropping limbs in 2011. The back yard was also covered in all kinds of plants we have grown to despise as much as sweet gum trees. For about 15-20 feet from one fence into the yard was so much overgrowth that it took us at least 5 years to find the fence and about 10 years to realize there's a mulberry tree back there. There were nandina bushes, aucuba plants, mahonia plants, holly bushes and privet everywhere. There were plants that we couldn't identify - some were kept but many others removed due to massive overgrowth.


By sometime in 2012, the majority of the yard cleaning had been completed, including giving a bunch of azaleas room to grow. (A run-in with a bad teacher led to the removal of a bunch of boxwoods that gave the azaleas some space.) Coincidentally, we grew our first serious vegetable garden in 2012 and the final piece of the sweet gum tree came down on December 20, 2016. Our first vegetable garden was about 15' by 20' with our most recent at approximately 40' by 70' - we decided to scale it back next year.


Over those years, I've learned a lot about gardening and preserving but will always be learning more. Some years are better than others, just like life. Sometimes, you just have to step back and accept that something went wrong, figure it out (or not) and try not to make the same mistake again. After all these years of work we now have pear, apple, fig, mulberry, and plum trees on the property. We discovered a pecan tree in the back yard and added a dwarf almond tree to the front yard. Plus, after a failed experiment with grapes and muscadines, we are now growing blueberries.


We've been in our house nearly 20 years now. It's not perfect but nothing ever is. It's a work in progress, always - learning something new with each experience. And that's how I became a farmer/gardener of just over a half acre.



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