My Year in Gardening: 2011

I wrote a reflections post for 2010, and thought it would be good to end this year in the same way, especially since it gives me the opportunity to revisit some experiences that I did not cover very thoroughly.

[This photo and at top of page] My garden in September 2011.

Year Start

I started the year with a new D.I.Y grow-light system, more seedlings than I could handle, and a sloping bowling alley of scrubby grass and weeds that I hoped to transform into a garden. As a testament to my stubbornness and determination, I somehow managed (with a lot of help from Davin) to pull it off amidst finishing the editing, photography, and design of my third book, traveling to Thailand, working on a potential TV show, and other deadlines. I was so excited about the space I was out there any chance I could get, often until it go so dark that I couldn’t see anymore. I love having this new garden. It’s the best thing about 2011 and I can’t wait to get back out there in the spring to see what comes of the bulbs and perennial plantings, work on refining the overall layout, and discover a new year of wonders and experiments.

Year End

These last few months of the year have been trying and spiritually exhausting. I’m burned out and feel like a shell of my former self. It is for the first time that I find myself really relishing the idea of a year’s end and starting from a renewed and fresh perspective in January. More than ever I hope to walk into the new year feeling revitalized and ready to take on some of the ideas and adventures I’d like to work on in 2012. As you read this post, we are either on our way to or have arrived in the desert, where we will be enjoying some much-needed respite from the cold.

Friends, I’m going to touch, see, and be in the desert soon!!!!!! There aren’t enough exclamation points in the world to express my enthusiasm.

Most Surreal Experience of 2011: Thailand. Hands down. No contest. We went to Thailand on a 10-day garden tour/media familiarization trip in April, and I am STILL processing it. Someday I will dedicate a chapter in a book based on the story of my gardening life, and I know exactly what the title will be. In fact, I knew it at the end of our first day of the trip! I’d tell you now, but then I’d have to write the story out, and that could take hours, which I don’t happen to have right now as I am writing this when I should be packing for a trip. HA!

Everything in Thailand is big, sparkly, complex, and well… big. The temples are big and beautiful. The Grand Palace absolutely blew my mind with the intricate attention to detail and the hand-applied mosaics that beautified each building. The plants were big, too. I’d been on a few tropical trips prior to this one, but it was Thailand that finally broke down my resistance to growing big-leafed tropicals. Once that door was opened total chaos ensued. I acquired several alocasias and colocasias within one week. By the summer’s end, I had five ornamental banana trees growing in the yard. This is why I put limits on the kind of plants I allow myself to grow.

To paraphrase my friend Derek who was also on the trip, even the jet lag is epic. I went through weeks of hell, certain that I would never sleep again in my life, and wondering if I would be stuck in a perpetual state of infancy, never getting back on schedule and in-tune with the hour of the day. Melodramatic perhaps, but there were some moments there when I was truly frightened by my inability to sleep.

The runner up in surreal experiences goes to my four days speaking to enthusiastic garden crowds at Epcot, Disney World. Crazy and amazing!

Favourite Post of the Year: I was trembling furiously as I pressed “post” on this one.

Favourite Plant of the Year: Ask me this question tomorrow and you’ll get a different answer, but when I look back on the year, I can’t help but think of the monster Jerusalem artichoke that took over our garden. I have grown this plant in a container over on the roof garden, and it is because of that experience that I would NEVER, EVER, have planted it in the new garden. A few weeks ago, as I stood, bent over what remained of that monstrous patch, digging out tubers as big as potatoes, I found myself feeling thankful to the former residents of this house who were either naive or crazy enough to plant them. If it wasn’t for them I never would have had this experience or the amazing bounty that I have since turned into pickles. Sometimes the best plants are the ones we inherit.

Favourite Garden Visited: The Denver Botanic Gardens, specifically the alpine garden. Awesome. See some of my photos here and here.

Favourite Picture Posted in 2011: These aren’t especially good pictures. Actually, my favourite photos taken in 2011 are not posted on this site. One of them is in my new book. I’ll point it out when the book comes out in Feb. Still, these images of harvested tomatoes are a testament to the bounty of well over 100 lbs of tomatoes we cultivated in the new garden in 2011. People say that heirlooms aren’t good producers, that they are feeble, unreliable plants that often succumb to disease. Well, all of my plants were heirlooms and the only plants that underwhelmed were inadvertently planted in the shadow of the massive 2-story-tall Jerusalem artichoke. Yes, some heirlooms are as pathetic as described, but there are countless varieties out there, each unique in habit, size, colour, flavour, and productivity level. The trick is in finding the right varieties for your climate and growing conditions. And let’s not forget this year’s fabulous little tomato that could, Hahms Gelbe Topftomate!

More Highlights of the 2011 Year in Gardening:

  • The Tropical High Elevation House at the Atlanta Botanic Garden. I haven’t even posted some of the best photos I took there. That room was incredible.

    Their carnivorous collection was also fantastic. I would go back just to see them again. Here are some photos I took of diminutive orchids in the same room.

  • Office Tomato. I still owe you an update! Office tomato did indeed resurrect from a cut stem to deliver another round of fruit outdoors.

What are you reflecting on as 2011 comes to a close?

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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15 thoughts on “My Year in Gardening: 2011

  1. what A year & it’s not over yet! Hope you have a wonderful time in the dessert. Need to find your post with before pic of the yard … the after shot above is truly amazing Gayla.

  2. Wow, the pictures of your backyard are really quite stunning. Some major highlights in here this year (and a few excellent posts I missed!). Happy New Year, Gayla. It just gets better from here!

  3. So much inspiration, Gayla! I’m very excited for your third book.

    There were a few deaths in my family, so I suppose I’ve been reflecting a lot on my own mortality.

    And finding much solace in planting life.

    • I’m sorry to hear you’ve suffered that kind of loss this past year. I struggled a lot with mortality this past summer as well. One of the most if not the most difficult part of life to come to terms with.

  4. Wow Gayla its amazing to see how your garden has grown this year! Here in sunny Australia summer is starting to really kick in (the last two days have been 37 degrees centigrade), so immediate concerns are seeing that our newly planted tomato seedlings and carrots survive. We are playing planting catch-up as we were away during late spring. Even after several years of serious veggie growing its hard to keep up with where we need to be with succession planting. Our reflections for the year are its great to be where we are with our garden and there’s still so much to learn. All the best for 2012.

  5. Just finished watching your program. I love gardening and everywhere I lived I planted either in the ground or in pots depending on where I was living. Five years ago my husband and I built a house in Mexico. I had a huge chunk of raw land where for the first weeks I raked rocks. I planted with no knowledge of what grows in the tropics. However, although it isn’t perfect (still working on it) I have a lovely garden where birds, butterflies are plentiful.

  6. Gayla, your garden is so beautiful. Great post. I can’t wait to read your new book. I’m preordering it today. =)

  7. Your garden is fantastic!

    I’ve been on hiatus from the blogging world and clearly I missed something as this does not look like your community garden plot.

    Hope you find time to relax. :-)

  8. Wow, you’ve had quite a year. I was especially interested in your comments on the heirloom tomatoes. I’ve had mixed results with them, but the taste is worth the space in the garden This year I’m promising myself to give my plants more space. I tend to put in way more that the garden can hold. And then come July and August, it’s a real mess.

  9. The garden looks so gorgeous, all those colours, and I love how you’ve planted so many tall plants. What a difference from the time I saw it, under a blanket of snow on a very cold February afternoon.

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