Happy Saturday, friends. Today we’re welcoming Emily Mruk to NW Healthy Mama. Emily is sharing with us the story behind her garden and so much more. To put it lightly, I absolutely love this girl and I know you will too. Please warmly welcome Emily and make sure to leave her some comment love. She’s never done anything like this before and I feel like she nailed it! -Angela
I think most people think of a garden as an oasis; a retreat. I guess that’s true too, but for me (and probably for us) it’s more than that. It’s the throbbing heartbeat thrusting life into our veins and into our soil. Equal parts science and magic, our garden is humming and buzzing, and constantly changing. It fills me with wonder and joy, and teaches me hard lessons which seem to all share a resounding theme around patience and trust.
It makes complete sense that this labyrinth of life is where my labor started with our baby girl just three months ago. It was the first truly warm and sunny day this past Spring, and I was nearly forty-two weeks pregnant, chasing a runaway bunny through the hollyhocks, taking care not to step on the dahlias just beginning to burst through the dirt. In a rest between contractions that came like waves, I victoriously snatched the soft fur of the bunny’s neck as she rounded the chicken coop. My husband stood by my side with his trusty contraction timer working away, and said the words he’d been waiting so long to say. “I think we need to call the midwife.”
Five years ago, when we accidentally bought our little 1920’s bungalow in a high stakes game of Chicken, we had no intention of gardening. We loved the hundred-year-old pear tree, and were barely bothered by the dead and dry arborvitaes covering the missing fence sections. After years of squishing ourselves, and all our stuff into teen tiny apartments, we were thrilled to open the backdoor and let the dog out without a leash. I think it all started with the half dozen dahlia tubers I picked up at the Spring Fair, and then suddenly we were talking chickens and food forests. We built a couple garden boxes that summer and grew a few scraggly veggies that nobody watered and nobody but the dog ate. When I stepped out into the yard I felt overwhelmed with the chaos of the neighborhood. Car alarms blared, ambulances signaled their return to the nearby hospital, dogs ran in and out of the patchy fence, and the convenience of the nearby freeway on-ramp lost its appeal with the constant wave of whooshing traffic. The exposed ally made me tense.
Our home was nestled in the heart of the Hilltop- a neighborhood notorious in the 90’s (and probably still) for gang violence and drug trafficking. The small park across the street boasts a memorial to mark the spot of a historical shootout. When I sat out on our front porch I would often spot girls as young as the ones I teach hopping into cars, returning a few hours later, and then repeating the drill. Ziploc baggies filled with white powder exchanged hands in plain sight, and boys paced street corners with cell phones permanently attached to their ears. It filled me with grief, and I got itchy to create something beautiful. And so, we got to work.
We spent that first winter reading and watching anything we could get our hands on. I remember plopping the iPad next to me in the half frozen Earth to watch “How To” YouTube videos as I planted my first batch of bulbs. We dreamed, and schemed, and researched, researched, researched. Anne Lovejoy’s Handbook of Northwest Gardening become my Bible, and Ron Finley’s Ted Talk on “Gangster Gardening” became my religion. We wanted to take back this bit of Earth- to grow something wild and beautiful, and free. We knew we needed our garden to thrive on a chintzy budget, a lot of love, and occasional neglect.
We’d sit side by side, in what was then the yard, sketching ideas and charting the hours of sunlight for each section of the would-be garden. We found ourselves plucking portions of our favorite places to piece together our perfect haven. We wanted meandering pathways reminiscent of the seaside Bungalow we took that overnight train from Bangkok to get to, and a gathering spot for late night hangouts like the surf camp we loved in Rio. We thought about what made the hostels and bed and breakfasts we’d spent nearly a decade exploring so chill, so wanderlusty, and set out to recreate what we could in our small part of the hood. We bickered and bargained and hashed out pro con lists and reviewed garden map after garden map, and finally, we had a master plan. In a bold and inerasable move, we removed all the grass.
The hardest part about making any big change is that it usually looks and feels a lot like this before it becomes something extraordinary.
With nothing but muck and clay soil, we decided to follow local gardener Paul Gautschi’s method for Back to Eden gardening to create sustainable, nutritious, and organic soil composition. This, and the hundred or so dollars we spent on installing a DIY underground sprinkler system, were the most crucial investments of our plan. Soon, I found myself flirting my way into newspaper bins at the recycling center in search of free and powerful weed barriers, and my husband was loading Tagro by the yards into the back of our Subaru. We spent rainy February evenings sloshing through backyards of Craigslisters offering splits of perennials, and even found a few orphaned Japanese Maples. When Matt’s dad learned he had cancer, he flew home to Alaska to spend those last months by his side. I found solace from my heartache in shoveling a gazillion tons of free river rocks into the garden to create pathways, along with ten yards of free woodchips delivered by the city to hold in moisture and prevent weeds.
Matt returned with the Springtime birds, and we hauled, and grieved, and planted, and healed. The following season we dedicated ourselves to growing everything we could from seed, and we watched as life grew; in the soil, and in me. I sank my teeth into the zesty, peppery arugula and ate kale by the handfuls with the electrical feeling that our child was thriving on the food we grew. That she was nourished by the seeds I prayed for as I planted, by the hope we heaved into the soil, and by the throbbing heartbeat of this garden that seems to be the center of everything.
We didn’t change the world, or even our neighborhood, but we did grow something beautiful, and I pray she’ll always be wild and free.