The Insider’s New Gardening Columnist Invites You to Dig In
By Victoria Rolfe
I have always been interested in growing things. As a tiny child, I was fascinated and envious of the daffodils in our neighbor’s yard. Why couldn’t we have those beautiful flowers? (Oddly, it never occurred to me to ask my mother to grow them in our yard. I think I had no idea that would be possible.) As an older child, I started a very small, rudimentary vegetable garden in my mom’s backyard. And even as a teen experimenting with pot, I took my experimentation in a whole different direction by taking one of the seeds out of the bag and growing my own marijuana plant on my bedroom windowsill. My mother was clueless, by the way. I told her I had planted a seed from the Mimosa tree next door. 😄
When my husband John and I bought our first house on Long island, N.Y., I was so excited finally to have my own piece of land to cultivate. Since it was only a smallish lot, and truthfully my time and attention were devoted to growing babies and caring for toddlers in those years, I just grew the basics . But inwardly, my passion was growing each time I planted tomato and cucumber seeds and nurtured them into real food that we could eat.
Then when our youngest child was four, we moved up here to the Hudson Valley into a home with a beautiful three acres to enjoy. Itching to get out there, my first official act that spring was to dig up a nice little garden just steps from my kitchen door. I think that initial plot was maybe 16’ x 12’. But the next year we added to it, and we continued to expand it each year. Now, that little plot has grown to about 36’x75’. At the same time, I began to grow some flowers around the yard, expanding and adding new ornamentals as the years progressed.
As the kids went off to school and I had more time, I began to get serious about learning about gardening. I devoured books from the library (remember frugality, free education!), and began applying the techniques I was learning. And as my flowers, vegetables, and gardens grew, so did my passion!
When my three of my four kids were small, we joined the 4-H Club. By and by, I discovered that the Farm & Home Center (home base for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, where 4-H was run), also had a program called The Master Gardeners and my interest was piqued. So when my youngest was poised for middle school, I signed up.
The program involves classes on a myriad of gardening subjects. And in return for the education, we are required to put in a certain amount of volunteer time for the next ten years to remain in the program. We are also provided with (and in fact are required to take) ongoing continuing education on gardening topics of our choice: everything from container gardening to organic vegetable gardening, to tree Indentification and anything in-between. For our service hours, we garden, teach classes, and answer gardening questions from the community via a Master Garden hotline or in booths throughout the county, most notably at the Dutchess County, N.Y. Fair. I have long passed my ten-year mark and so now am considered emeritus (no volunteer time required), but I still remain an active Master Gardener Volunteer to this day.
In exchange for our time, in addition to the great satisfaction of educating and interacting with the public to share our passion for gardening, we are treated to monthly field trips throughout the summer months to all of the beautiful gardens to be seen in our lovely region. And we make friends with like-minded people so that we do not have to bore our other friends to tears with our endless garden talk. My particular group of tight-knit friends call ourselves the Magical Gardeners, and I think that says it all.
So, you can imagine my delight that this enforced shutdown has people turning to their own backyards and discovering the joy of gardening, which has been so near and dear to my heart all these years. When The Insider asked me if I could write an ongoing garden column and help people get down in their own dirt and discover the magic of growing things, how could I say no? It’s what I do!
I would love to hear from you, dear readers, of what your own gardening experience has been so far, and what you would like to learn about. Please feel free to ask me your gardening questions and I will do my best to answer them. And remember, this is frugal gardening, so I will help you to save money at the same time!
Here is a collection of Victoria's previous Insider stories: