Imperfect Gardener

Entrance to the garden. Photo by Rebecca Penovich

Entrance to the garden.
Photo by Rebecca Penovich


Two summers ago, Allison and I ventured into a collaborative garden in her backyard. Previous owners of her Victorian-era home had put in five raised beds in a fenced and gated enclosure and Allison had gardened there, trying sweet corn and other vegetables.   It was a lot of space for one gardener.  So we hatched a plan for a communal garden; one that we would get our children involved in as free labor.

As my yard up the street is mostly shade in the front and on the sides (I’m specializing in hostas, vinca, and other shade-loving ground covers, including weeds) and my back yard is something we call the ‘back slab’ due to the concrete-pouring previous owners who had a basketball court back there,  I jumped at the opportunity to grow some vegetables, herbs, and flowers in the full sun they require.

Please plant me in full sun.

Please plant me in full sun. Except that variegated hosta.


We started slowly, clearing out 4 of the 5 beds in the first summer and planting herbs and tomatoes.  The next summer, I got a compost tumbler for Mother’s Day (yes, I put that on my wish list!) and we parked it next to the garden and started composting from our kitchens.  (Guilty admission:  Allison was doing most of the kitchen composting.)

We gradually expanded in the second year.  My husband rented a soil tiller from Home Depot and went to town digging up the beds and aerating them.  Allison, the kids, and I added the “Black Gold” from the homemade compost, and Allison’s husband spread fresh mulch over all to tamp down weeds.

Mulching is fun, right?

Mulching is fun, right?


We tried more things, including zucchini, cucumber, jalapenos, different varieties of tomatoes, zinnias, nasturtiums, lavender, and even patchouli (my nod to the Grateful Dead and college years.)

We’ve had some success (many herbs, Sun Gold tomatoes) and some failures (why oh why are we the only gardeners in America who can’t grow zucchini)?

We call this section 'Italy' for the basil, rosemary and lavender there.

We call this section ‘Italy’ for the basil, rosemary and lavender there.


We have planted from seed and from seedlings.  We do it with trial and error.  We see what works (and try to replicate that) and we see what doesn’t work (and try to figure it out or abandon the effort).

We are imperfect gardeners but enjoying the challenge.

This year, Allison wants to conquer the zucchini challenge (is it our soil? our seeds?) and I want more garlic scapes and onions for cooking.  Oh yes, and flowers, lots and lots of flowers!

How does your garden grow?

P.S.  Cheeky raccoons ate all of Allison’s crop of corn just as it was ripe.  Beat her to it by one day.

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