"Hang on a sec, y'all," Randy Johnson (director of horticulture) says as he stomps through his lush, native flowerbed at the Texas Discovery Gardens in Fair Park. Classmates whisper uncomfortably, "Did he seriously just shove that Texas lantana out of his way?" Yep.
Randy disappears into the flowerbed with some shears for a moment and, then, like some freakin' garden genie, he pops up holding a giant summer squash. "I'm just sayin', you can grow your vegetables anywhere you want. Grow them in their own little vegetable garden, or in the flower garden you've already got. Wherever."
If his hat and long ponytail didn't already tip you off, it's now clear that Randy's 7.5-acre, certified 100 percent organic garden at Fair Park is the hippie, organic-before-organic-was-cool sister of the over-achieving, perfection-obsessed Dallas Arboretum.
More (which includes a machete) after the jump:
Organic backyard lettuce is de-fuckin'-licious.
The Saturday morning Modern Victory Garden class promised to cover soil biology as well as how to "create a bountiful, organic, backyard vegetable garden." It also promised to be "hands-on," although I'm not sure my classmates were expecting it to be "stick your hand wrist-deep in a pile of compost" hands-on. At least one three-carat diamond left that class full of some serious soil biology.
I'm not a pro gardener. But, I am gardening-curious. Right now, I've got a pot of basil in my backyard that's semi-happy, a few knockout rose bushes that're kinda mad Hurricane Don was such a pussy and a front yard full of St. Augustine that really wishes I would either water it more (read: ever) or make these 100-million-degree days stop.
As someone who knows very little about gardening, I found Randy's totally zen, yoga-instructor-y tone comforting. "You just gotta let go of perfection right now. Just let it go." "You're not curing cancer here -- you're gardening. If you mess up, it's OK. Just hang out and give it a coupla-three days." "Heck, if you're doing absolutely nothing to your yard right now, you're organic." And then he casually busted out a machete to cut up some cardboard for compost. Guy's a freakin' garden ninja.
Randy's class offers up a common sense, no-fear, 100 percent organic gardening philosophy. "Grow when you want. Grow what you like. Grow what's expensive to buy." He says in Texas, you can pretty much start a garden whenever you want. "Just make sure it's in the ground a few weeks before the first frost and you're good to go."
Four things I learned from Randy's Chill Approach to Gardening:
1) Successful gardens are diverse like the Captain Planeteers. Grow a lot of different things and you'll have more success.
2) The best mulch for your garden comes from your own yard. Use your own grass clippings and tree trimmings. It doesn't get more "native to the area" than that.
3) Herb it up. Plant herbs near your vegetables and your garden will thrive because herbs attract beneficial bugs. Yum.
4) Gardening ladies don't like being told what to do. Especially when you're telling them they have to shove their bejeweled hands into steaming compost to "feel how hot that is!"
And finally, Randy's top suggestions if you're starting a fall vegetable garden today: Mache lettuce, cabbage, broccoli. "Unless you don't like cabbage or something."
If you're at all interested in gardening, you absolutely have to meet this guy. November 5, Randy will host a presale plant tour just before the Texas Discovery Gardens plant sale (which will feature host and nectar plants from the spring sale as well as hard-to-find native trees and shrubs). He'll show you how to incorporate native and adapted plants into your landscape, and who knows, he might bust out his machete again. It's $15 ($10 for members) and promises to be worth every penny.
Alice Laussade writes about food, kids, music, and anything else she finds to be completely ridiculous. She created and hosts the Dallas event, Meat Fight, which is a barbecue competition and fundraiser that benefits the National MS Society. Last year, the event raised $100,000 for people living with MS, and 750 people could be seen shoving sausage links into their faces. And one time, she won a James Beard Award for Humor in Writing. That was pretty cool.