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Gardening with Friends and Others

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Gardening is more than planting some seeds and a flower or two. It’s an experience of interacting with soil, water, sunshine, insects, birds, pests and pollinators, and PEOPLE, the community. It’s a whole interactive investment in life. Since I was old enough to pull weeds with my mother and sister, I’ve participated in gardening. I may not have always appreciated the weeds, but as I’ve gotten older, I realize that sharing my love of growing things has grown me!

Companion planting usually refers to putting plants together that complement each other:  Tomatoes and basil (the basil repels pests and enhances the flavor of tomatoes), and marigolds planted in the garden are great insect repellants. (Francie McGowan’s great article on this is here) But I think that gardening with others is another way to “companion plant.” One of my neighbors shares her grass clippings with me, as I love to “make” compost. She saves garbage waste, and I share the compost back with her. Gardening with 4-H has given me so much pleasure: hearing stories of mothers, and grandmothers and their tips passed on; watching young people get excited about picking and eating raw broccoli, peppers, carrots; and the wonder of their energy as they help wheelbarrow six cubic yards of compost into raised beds! I’ve also discovered that I can share my “girlie” rototiller with a neighbor and learn how she makes beautiful, artistic beds and paths, plus the laughter and fun of her little girls running around. My tours of local ranches were eye-opening and exciting, exposing me to permaculture techniques that improve the soil and interact fairly successfully with local wildlife (even the deer).

The Master Gardener program classes I took—propagation, soil management, IPM (integrated pest management)—were not only educational, but introduced me to others who’ve become friends. Sharing a farming project with a friend, I’ve discovered new, fun ways to sow seeds. I heard stories of some of her adventures in youth (wow!) and shared laughter along with the lettuces we grew! I would never have had the opportunity to transplant wild iris, if my son hadn’t done his Eagle Scout project in the Sierra, creating a new path. Even though many of us ended up with poison oak, it was still a wonderful experience and memory of shared times and working together. Helping with a community-project garden (like the Master Gardener demonstration garden in Sonora) gives me a chance to get dirty, sweaty, and laugh with others, while sharing some of the bounty, participating in education, and educating. Getting sweaty and dirty may not appeal to everyone, but who cannot relate to “accidentally” getting squirted with a hose, oops, by a teenager?

So, plant basil with your peppers and tomatoes. Plant corn, beans and squash, the “Three Sisters,” to support and enhance one another. But do some of this alongside others. Share your bounty, your blooms and your adventures with others around you. All will benefit and grow in companionship and relationships.

Nancy Bliss is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.