This is second interview in Meet Master Gardeners series. Today, I am interviewing a young gardener, student and blogger (with pseudonym, College Gardener).
Tell me something about your garden (is it a lawn, terrace garden, rooftop garden, backyard, and what grows there, vegetables, perennials etc.)?
Since I am a college student who goes to school in different state, my garden situation is a bit unusual at the moment. When I am home from school, I work on my family’s moderate-sized suburban garden in Michigan, which has lawns, herbaceous borders, shrubs, and quite a few trees, as well as a sizeable collection of potted plants that adorn the terrace in summer and spend the winter in various rooms of the house. The rest of the year – roughly from the middle of September until the middle of December and from late January until mid-May – I grow an assortment of houseplants on the windowsills of my suite in the college dormitory.
What is gardening to you (how important is it you to have a garden in your home)?
Gardening is my oldest and most important hobby and even when I do not have access to an actual garden, I always have to at least grow some potted plants. At school, for example, I try to have some house plants in every room of my three-room suite. I even keep some pothos (Epipremnum aureum) on the bathroom windowsill.
When and how did you start gardening?
I cannot remember when exactly I started gardening – As far as I can remember, I was always very interested in plants and captivated by their beauty. We lived in an apartment until I was seven, and among my first plants were a Queen of the Night cactus (Selenicereus grandiflorus) and some Phalaenopsis orchids which I kept on the windowsill of my bedroom. However, the woman who took care of the flowerbeds around the building would often let me plant a few things in some corner, so I did get to do some gardening in open ground. There was also an old lady who kept a large and beautiful old-fashioned flower and vegetable garden in the lot adjacent to the building, and she taught me some things, such as to plant hostas in shady spots and hellebores for winter interest or how to properly deadhead flowers. When I was seven we moved into our first house, and from then on my parents pretty much let me take care of our gardens.
What is blooming in your garden today?
The garden outside is frozen and covered by patches of snow but inside a number of houseplants are blooming. There is a beautiful white cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum), some poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima), a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi), and a red-flowered Abutilon x hybridum. A young olive tree (Olea europea) is flowering as well but those flowers are rather inconspicuous. Also, in my dorm room at school an African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha) was just beginning to bloom as I left for break a week ago and a red crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii) has been flowering vigorously for months.
What type(s) of plants do you grow (flowering, fruits, cacti)?
At the moment I grow mainly ornamentals and some herbs, though I have also planted some fruiting trees and shrubs, such as peaches and red currants, in my family’s garden and hope to add grape vines and other fruits in the coming years. When I was still in high school and at home all year round I also grew some vegetables as well as strawberries and rhubarb and once I am again settled permanently in one place I definitely hope to resume vegetable gardening in addition to growing all kinds of ornamental plants.
What grows in your dream garden (if climate allows, what would you love to grow in your garden)?
That is a tough one, because I would want to grow almost everything… I would definitely like to have roses, peonies, and camellias, as well as lots of old-fashioned flowers, such as stocks, carnations, and opium poppies, but also more tropical fare like bananas, ornamental ginger species, and various palm trees. Scented flowers would be another priority, and I would want to have such plants as jasmine, tuberose, and different species of citrus.
Name your favorites?
Among plants which I have grown so far, tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are among my favorites, while for plants I have not had a chance to grow myself yet, lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) and Himalayan blue poppies (Meconopsis sp.) top the list.
Why is it your favorite?
I love tree peonies because they are very tough, vigorous plants which need almost no care yet produce some of the largest and most stunning flowers of any plant hardy in a temperate climate. Even so they are still relatively rare. As for lotus and blue poppies, they are incredibly beautiful and I rarely get to see them in real life, because relatively few people in the US plant lotus plants and they are very expensive, and the poppies do not tolerate the hot summers we get here.
How much personal time do you spare for your garden every week?
When I am at home in the summer, probably around ten hours a week. The rest of the time, I spend a total of about one hour a week taking care of my plants.
Who/what inspired you the most towards gardening?
My paternal grandmother and my aunt and uncle are great gardeners and have certainly encouraged me and taught me a lot. Then there were people like that old lady with the garden next to our apartment building. Apart from that, I have just always been very aware of pretty plants and beautiful gardens, and whenever I saw something particularly arresting, I wound want to recreate it. I got a lot of ideas from my family’s travels, for example, and sometimes even an image seen in a book or magazine would spark an idea. Long before I first travelled to South Asia, for instance, I planted large rectangular beds of African marigolds (Tagetes erecta), cockscomb (Celosia cristata), and other annuals in our lawn after seeing beautiful pictures of such beds in the Mughal gardens in Kashmir.
Do you have a specific monthly budget for your hobby?
No – I generally try to be thrifty though and get my money’s worth when buying plants or supplies .
What is you take on organic and inorganic gardening?
I much prefer organic gardening and never use any chemical pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. In my mind, adding more harmful chemicals to the environment somehow contradicts the whole point of gardening.
What is your major challenge as a gardener?
At the moment, my greatest challenge is not living in one place year-round and thus not being able to take care of my garden throughout the seasons.
What was your last purchase (gardening item)?
My last purchase was a Tradescantia spathacea for my windowsill.
Do you remember your first plant?
I remember my Queen of the Night cactus (Selenicereus grandiflorus) as one of my first plants but I am not sure if it was absolutely the first…
Are you an experimental gardener?
Yes, very much so. I am always trying to push the boundaries of hardiness and grow things that people are convinced cannot be grown in a particular place or plants that for some other reason are not very common. I have been growing Japanese fiber bananas (Musa basjoo) in Michigan for six years now, and one of the joys of my late-summer garden is a pink crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), which I brought back from a trip to Florida and which no one can believe is hardy here.
What is your most memorable achievement as a gardener?
I think the success of my eastern prickly pear cacti (Opuntia humifusa), which line the edge of the flower bed next to the front entrance of the house and which erupt into shimmering yellow bloom in early summer, is something of which I am particularly proud. To be honest, however, I am not sure how much credit I can take for that, beyond finding a suitable spot for the plants, because despite their exotic appearance they are actually quite tough.
Here are a few pictures of ‘College Gardener’s’ plants.