Someone give me a HUG

Soooo…. I just had to be dorky and write this title since tonight I went to my first HUG meeting. Sounds like a support group for insecure and lonely people, doesn’t it? It’s an acronym for Hilltop Urban Gardens. A few weeks ago, when I was starting to have a few freak out moments, wondering what the h-e-double hockey sticks we had done moving to the Hilltop, I just decided that I needed to find out what is going on out here in terms of groups to connect with. I went on Facebook and just typed in Hilltop. I found some people actually just started a lot of groups called “Hilltop”. It’s like starting a Facebook group called Texas and hoping that people will “Like” it. Sort of a long shot. Well, I did find HUG in the mix of everything and decided to Like it. Tonight I actually went to the meeting, the very first meeting, and ended up running into a girl I know and also the organizer did a Master Gardener program with my  mom so she knows her, and now me. So reassuring to start running into people who I have a small connection with.


This is something I’ve noticed about this area, we all live close together. Profound, I know. People who are here are very aware of how intense it can be to live here but so far everyone we’ve met loves living here, even with all its craziness. I’ve lived in other cities where you meet up with people but they often live on the other side of town from you, not unusual. Here I’ve been fascinated how many of us all live just within a few blocks from one another, it’s like an actual community. Imagine that!


The meeting was great. I’ve always wanted to be a  part of an urban gardening program. In Madison there were tons of community gardens but individuals basically did their own gardening alone. People rented a plot and just grew stuff. I wanted to be a bit more involved with the aspect of food justice and that  hadn’t developed there yet. If I wanted to be a part of that I knew I’d have to start something and I  am not in a position to take that on at this point in life. So tonight I was very inspired by our tiny little group of gardeners who want to develop a program that ties a neighborhood together. I was even able to bring my ideas to the table, which I was a bit reluctant to do since I’m so new to this area and even though I grow food I’m still fairly new at it. I’ve only been doing it for 5 years and everything I do is self taught. Some of these people have taken programs and college classes in agricultural development.   I’ve also never had a garden in the NW so there is a lot I still don’t know about gardening in this climate.


The idea on the table was a Harvest Party. They wanted to get ideas in that category, just ideas thrown out. No right or wrong, just ideas. I wasn’t sure what they wanted so I just wrote “Eat family style, rather than buffet style, at tables to create a hospitable atmosphere”. They loved it. It sparked a lot of conversation on what it means to draw people together and empower them. I also realized that I was in a room with gardeners and not outreach coordinators, something I’ve been doing a long time, so I could actually see that I did bring something to the table. I also suggested that we mix aesthetics in with The Farm, as it will be called, in order to show the beauty of agriculture and use local artists to contribute. Looks like we might fuse the Hilltop Artists In Residence to get more people involved.


In short it was a rad night. I’m finding a place for myself here in this urban jungle. It’s funny how much Matt and I talk about this place and it’s quirkiness, how this isn’t what we were planning to thrust our family into but here we are. In a sense we’ve always wanted this but we’re still adjusting to it and  taking it all in. Our neighbors still have a toilet in the back yard and it’s an anomaly to me, lots of things around here are. This place is a strange plus and minus of events and scenery. Today it was horribly gray in the sky but there was a rainbow above, a double rainbow even (I know….”It’s full-on a double rainbow!!! What does it mean???”) The lovely lives next to the unlovely all the time around these parts.


I’m excited to see a garden spring out of a vacant lot. Beauty for ashes! Dirt, food, flowers….I’m inspired by the commitment some of our neighbors have to make this place matter….

It’s an ‘alive mess’


As the weather cools I’ve been pulling up garden plants in preparation for winter. It’s harvest time and today I clipped 20 varieties of squash from a few different plants. I wish I could show photos of what our garden looked like before I dug my hands in it. There were piles of newspapers bundled together to form some sort of ‘border’ for a ‘garden’, weeds grew higher than my slim 6’2″ husband and every time I dug the earth to plant something I was uncovering garbage (wires, plastic bags, toys, tampons-good times- and the occasional sock). In the past four years I have taken back under a quarter acre of land and grown food, herbs, flowers and taught my kids to love playing with worms.

I’ve read and reread books on composting, growing fruits and veggies, and tried to figure out how to eat seasonally while living in the midwest. Over the past year my family has been interested in the slow food movement so we are trying to take some dominion and stick it to the man as we become urban homesteaders, the best we can.

I understand that there are a lot of people in the US who don’t have time or can’t make time to grow food. It’s time consuming…. sort of. But the payoff is huge and the reward of self sufficiency is intoxicating. It’s empowering to eat food that you’ve toiled over. Your seedlings become like little children whom you’ve nurtured and are now giving back to you out of thankfulness (I’m not a TOTAL hippy and I don’t believe that food talks or that zucchini has a conscience- I’m writing allegorically). Yet the end of the growing season comes and it’s time to let your buddies die. They give you their last breath and then the cold comes and takes their colour away (again, I’m not a pantheist). I’m always sad pulling up my pumpkin plants; piling them in a heap to be burned and putting my gardening gloves in a box until April. Our winters are long and deep and I don’t grow anything under the snow. Last year I grew spinach and lettuce in the window sill but that’s just not the same.

This is the end of a season and I absolutely love the harvest. I’m thankful for all of the work of spring and summer and the yield that it brought our family. If you have felt overwhelmed by the mere thought of starting a garden let me bring some encouragement; start small! All masterpieces started as an idea. Every artist started out small. Gardening is incredibly artistic and undeniably therapeutic. If you suffer from anxiety, garden! If you have anger, plant something and watch it grow! If you have allergies to food chemicals, grow your own! Start with basil and tomatoes next year. The year after that throw squash seeds in the ground and leave them alone. They will grow ferociously without any help from you and one plant is enough for you and your neighbors; they will run when they see you coming with a handful of zucchini to give away.

It’s easier than you think and it’s blissfully empowering to know YOU made this happen. If you have children you’ll love to see their black fingernails filled with earth grabbing a red (or yellow) tomato and putting it straight into their mouth. Store-bought organic is pricey and often comes from miles away (I have been known to buy tomatoes from CA but I don’t prefer it- I like to support my small, local farm) but something from your backyard is twelve steps away.

If you don’t know where to start but would like to grow your own next Spring here are some things I’ve learned:

– You don’t have to worry about compost for now (look into it later though- you’ll love it!) just put a plant in the dirt and remember to water it.

– If you’re overwhelmed starting plants from seed just buy plants from the Farmer’s market in the spring. They are very inexpensive.

– Start small and let your green thumb ‘blossom’ as the years go by (You can’t be a perfectionist as you garden. Learn as you go and don’t try to do it all in one year, trust me. It’s stressful to be a gardening perfectionist). Just plant basil and tomatoes the first year. Once you get the hang of it do some research on local growing and what grows best in your neck of the woods.

– Enjoy the process. If it won’t grow, pull it and start over. Get in the sunshine and breathe. Relax and enjoy the peace. See the colours, smell the smells and taste your food. It’s friggin’ awesome!

Take a look at these links. I subscribe to Organic Gardening and it’s fantastic!





Day 18: How does your garden grow?

cutting a pumpkin for Oliver

cutting a pumpkin for Oliver

There are days when I think of all the work we have done or still need to do on this house and I am totally overwhelmed. We got our home as a ‘fixer upper’, to put it mildly. We have fixed and fixed and fixed, yet there is still more work to be done. However, we have transformed our little money pit into something quite lovely. I’m in agreement with those people who buy houses and slowly begin to make them beautiful. There is something very holy in creating aesthetic beauty and I believe in making beauty out of ashes. I just didn’t know the ashes would be over three years high.

The first year we moved here it was all about working on the inside of the house. Then by the summer time I was so pregnant with Chloe that I couldn’t even think of the outside of the house. I sure did notice it though. We had weeds growing in our back garden that were taller than Matt who is 6’2″. So we just hacked away at the weeds and covered them with a plastic tarp. “That’ll do ‘er for now!’

Then the following year I ached for a garden after visiting Tacoma and seeing a lovely little back garden that a friend had worked years to beautify. He grew every kind of veggie, mixed hot compost (an art all in itself) and about four types of berries, plus flowers galore . I was locked in when I saw how sweet and restful it was. There is a freedom that comes from growing your own food. It’s liberating to go into the yard and pick your dinner.

When I came back to Madison I was on a gardening mission. I grew a lot, and learned a lot, that first year as I pulled up the yard all by my lonesome and planted away. I planted squash and pumpkin (only inches apart- I didn’t know!), tomatoes, spinach, chives, lavender, cosmos, sage, rosemary, basil….blah blah blah. It was crazy how things grew. The compost was the kicker. It mutated my food and flowers so that they grew to epic sizes. People would say, “I’ve never seen cosmos get that big” The stalks were about 3″ in cir.

Every year I plant more and dig up more of the ground. I am taking back our garden, even though a neighbor’s menacing trumpet vine threatens my veggies very existence. But that is another post all together…. And every year I learn more about gardening. The other day I was working in the yard, getting discouraged by the number of trees the previous owner allowed to grow out of control when a woman walked by and said stated that we had quite the make over going on in our yard. I sighed and told her she should have seen it when we first got the house. She mentioned she has passed our house on foot for years now and has seen the progress and that it looked so great. She was also a professional gardener and told me how to deal with those !@#$ trees. In all it was extremely encouraging to hear her perspective since I’ve worked so hard at turning this literal rubbish heap (I’m always digging up buried garbage) into something beautiful and refreshing.

Today I was digging more ground in prep for the spring planting and was so thankful that I have this plot. I love gardening and growing things. It’s something tangible for me to see and touch (and eat) and gain gratification from knowing that I made this, or made it grow. It’s the activator in me that wants results and not many things in my life give me fast results. Raising children shows you slow results just as investing in people’s lives shows slow results. But I get satisfaction and rest from my garden when I can sit next to it in the summer time, watching bees pollinate my goodies and slowly seeing little buds develop into treats for our dinner table.

What are you thankful for?

Showing Chloe our worms

Showing Chloe our worms

Tulip Garden

Tulip Garden

Last summer's sunflowers

Last summer's sunflowers

Green, green, green!

Green, green, green!