Hartley Magazine

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Being Zone Agnostic by Ethne Clarke, Colorado Springs

To have made six gardens in five climate zones looks very like extravagance, but to have possessed a greenhouse in only one may be regarded as a misfortune. Particularly, as I realized with some shock, that greenhouse was in the garden where I least needed it – Norfolk, England; aka Britain’s Sunshine Capitol, and with the lowest rainfall to boot. Extravagance indeed. But that was 15 years ago, and since then I’ve made several gardens, from zones 7a to 4, and have just signed on for Zone 6. I now garden in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, in Colorado Springs…on a sand dune. The region was once at the bottom of the sea, and while that has changed, my need for a glasshouse has not.

  It’s all about Season-Extension Gardening in these parts, west of the Mississippi. Hardly a yard exists without raised beds covered by polythene tunnels stretched over plastic plumbing tube; not the loveliest vista you could want – they look like bunch of dwarf covered wagons looking for a train. But are clearly effective for raising things you’re not supposed to grow here. Like tomatoes.

Larry Stebbins, the Yoda of veg gardening in this region, is the founder of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens. [www.ppugardens.org] Sixty-something Stebbins was only five years old when he found his entry-level veg, a tomato, fresh-picked and shared with his grandpa in the elder’s garden.

Laarry Stebbins
Pikes Peak Community Gardens

The experience led Stebbins down the path to fathering community gardens throughout the city, leading school programs, writing a book, A Backyard Vegetable Gardening Guide, (http://www.amazon.com/The-Backyard-Vegetable-Gardening-Guide-ebook/dp/B00I1QHSK0.) And developing a popular podcast (www.urbanfarmandgarden.com/larrystebbins).  

WoodmanRoberts Elementary
Pikes Peak Community Gardens

There’s a lot of millennials moving here from exotic places like Boise, Napa, Poughkeepsie, with visions of self-sufficiency dancing in their heads. Sitting over a cup of coffee in a “locabrew” pub (it was 10am!), a number of young women, with kale-fed kids in tow and their eyes a-sparkle, came up to thank Larry for hooking them up with heirloom seeds, organic compost, raised bed kits (for the mini-Conestoga  look). They didn’t quite kiss the hem of his anorak, but it was close.

I remember my own dewy-eyed moment, picking my first cabbage from my London allotment. It was the size of a medicine ball. I was so proud – and I don’t even like cabbage that much.

Tomatoes–that’s what I grew in the greenhouse I didn’t really need. They were awesome –Dwarves_cactus unlike most British tomatoes – mytoms (mostly Moneymaker, as heirlooms hadn’t seized the limelight back then) had flavor. Now, though, I am sooooo over tomatoes. Instead, I’m jonesin’ for cacti, succulents, and any other special needs plant you can name that have a claim to arid and even tropical needs. But that, children, is another story for another time.


©Ethne Clarke, 2015