Daiva Houston

 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania.

 

When were you first exposed to gardening? How did your interest in gardening begin?

We had a community garden plot with a tiny house on the city outskirts, where we would spend many weekends and summers. Both sets of my grandparents had gardens as well. My father’s parents lived in a small town and had a beautiful garden, full of flowers, berries, fruit and vegetables in their backyard. My mother’s parents lived in the country and had a farm with bees, animals, a large apple orchard, and the usual vegetable garden. My brother and I and our cousins would spend our summers at our grandparents, so I had lots of inspiration.

 

Who or what has been your greatest influence in gardening?

Probably the permaculture movement, because I learned many ways to improve the soil, such as moisture retention, managing pest and disease problems. I keep learning all the time, which is easy to do now through Internet resources.

 

How does gardening affect you personally?

The garden is one of my favorite places. It is my playground, a social place to interact with wonderful gardeners, a place to grow fresh food and healing plants, and a place of nature itself. My son and I observed a grasshopper chewing a chayote leaf, and just a moment before that, we saw a sparrow catching another grasshopper for its meal.

 

At which location do you garden?

We started with a tiny plot on Park Drive and transferred to Main Street a couple of years later.

 

When did you decide to apply for a garden plot?

When we were walking on Main Street and saw the gardens.

 

Why did you want a community garden?

To grow our food and have our little heaven in the city. My son was delighted to water the plants and to eat strawberries, cucumbers and other delicious food from the garden.

 

 

What are some of your favorite things to grow?

I started with common fruits and vegetables but as the years went by, I shifted to growing more unusual plants that we can’t buy in the store or even in farmers’ markets. We grow ground cherries, achochas, longevity spinach, black tomatoes, Mexican sour and West India gherkins, walking Egyptian onions, goji berries, yacon tubers, Pepino melon, and alpine strawberries. I also like to make and use herbal medicine, so I grow herbs as well -lemon verbena, peppermint, motherwort, feverfew, calendula, comfrey, yarrow and others. I also encourage edible weeds such as chickweed, cleavers, dandelion, purslane, and lambsquarters to grow and harvest them often.

 

What particular gardening methods do you use and would recommend? e.g. square foot gardening?

I started with square foot gardening method since our first plot was totally new at the time and didn’t have any soil built up. That site had drainage problems so raised beds solved it. Now my beds are semi-raised and I do not use compost/vermiculite/peat moss mix anymore. One thing I make sure of is to have my garden mulched as naked soil is a wound on Earth’s skin, and it tries to cover it up with weeds as soon as it can.

 

What has been your biggest gardening joy? Your biggest challenge?

Seeing my son enjoying birds, bugs, and plants and tasting his favorite strawberries and achochas is probably the biggest joy. The biggest challenge is to grow small-seeded plants from seed, as sometimes they require watering several times a day before they sprout. Also, our most persistent weed, false garlic (Nothoscordum gracile).

 

Describe your perfect day in the garden.

Good gentle weather with some rain, delicious fruit and greens, hummingbirds drinking nectar from the flowers, conversations with garden neighbors, and my son eating berries.

 

What advice would you give someone who has never gardened but wants to start?

Read a few good books before you start such as Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. Ask questions at the online forums for gardeners (permies.com has very active community), talk to other gardeners and do not underestimate your own intuition. It helps to stop doing things and simply observe your garden for a while. And use mulch.

 

Being a community gardener means sharing with other gardeners, giving back to the gardens and the greater community. How have you decided to contribute?

Our community gardens offer many opportunities to contribute – we volunteer at the public and inside garden events, help each other to water the gardens during vacation or illness, share seedlings, seeds, and produce with other gardeners and people who come to visit the gardens.