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Emily Beals, Mt. Aukum, Calif.

Urban Gardener Takes Her Hobby to New Heights

Emily Beals
Emily's new garden is a labor of love. Though she considers herself a vegetable gardener first, Emily obviously has a way with flowers.

A generation ago, it wasn't unusual for a gardener to spend his entire life tending and getting to know a single plot of land. Today, we're a much more mobile society. Most people move several times during adulthood, and for gardeners this often means starting from scratch with a completely different and unfamiliar set of growing conditions.

Emily Beals gardened in San Francisco for 30 years before she relocated to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The past two years have been both fun and challenging as she's learned how to garden on a completely different scale, in a completely different climate.

Gardening Here and There

In San Francisco, Emily was a full-time teacher and mom to three boys. Although her yard was small and her time limited, she still managed to grow lots of vegetables and flowers. The climate definitely helped. "In San Francisco, the weather is so consistent," says Emily. "It's perfect for growing cool-season vegetables, such as broccoli, and evergreens, such as rhododendrons," she says. "The temperatures are mild and my soil was sandy loam."

"We had owed 5 acres of land and a house in Mt. Aukum, Calif., for years, but only went there for weekends and vacations," says Emily. "I planted some fruit trees and put them on a drip irrigation system, but without my attention, they never thrived," she says.

All that changed when Emily retired two years ago and moved to Mt. Aukum to live year-round. "I'm relearning how to grow plants, living here at an elevation of 2,000 feet. The weather fluctuates from 110 degrees F in the summer to 20 degrees F in the winter," she says. Emily is also contending with clay soil and animal pests, and has to pay much more attention to watering. "I've had to learn the value of enriching the soil and mulching," she says. To compound these challenges, Emily's husband passed away a year ago, so she's on her own in the wilderness.

The Mountain Garden

Emily has jumped right into her new gardening adventure. She's become a Master Gardener through the University of California Cooperative Extension Service program, has joined three garden clubs and has taken classes to improve her composting skills. Her quarter-acre garden is loaded with vegetables, such a tomatoes, squash, lemon cucumbers and sweet corn. She has blueberries, grapes and strawberries, and flowers, such as zinnias, dahlias and clematis.

Emily has found that some plants grow much better in the Sierras than they do on the coast. "I planted 170 tomato plants this year and have so much fruit! What I don't can or freeze, I give away to neighbors and the local food bank," she says. Emily credits her tomato success to the loads of horse manure in the beds and the Organic Tomato Fertilizer that she purchases from Gardener's Supply. "I think the combination of manure and fertilizer equals a great crop of beautiful tomatoes," she says.

Some plants, which were dead easy when grown in San Francisco's mild climate, have proven to be rather fussy in her new garden. "On the coast my camellias and rhododendrons could be planted in full sun and they did fine. Here they need part shade and I have to amend the soil for them to thrive," she says.

Emily is also contending with wildlife. "I have gophers eating the roots, deer eating the leaves and birds eating the fruits," she laughs. To foil the gophers, Emily has built raised beds and encircled her garden with a 2-foot band of wire fencing (1 foot underground and 1 foot above the ground). For the birds, she uses netting. The deer have their own 7-foot-tall fence to contend with.

Tools for the Gardener

Now that Emily has retired and is gardening full time, she's discovered some essential tools to make her life easier. "I love the Garden Clogs," she says. They're soft and comfortable, yet they give my feet good support so my arches don't hurt."

The Colorful Tubs are indispensable," says Emily. "I use them for hauling soil, leaves, weeds, flowers and vegetables. They're bendable, yet durable and lightweight. Plus, they're so brightly colored I never lose them," she says.

Emily also loves the using various type of flower supports that she purchases from Gardener's Supply. "I like to match the flower to the plant support," she says. "I have the Support Rings, Linking Stakes, Gathering Rings and Grow-Through Supports to keep my dahlias, gladiolus, clematis and other flowers standing strong," she says.

A Gardener Keeps Growing

Even though Emily feels like gardening is in her DNA, she is still in wonder of how much she has yet to learn. "I'm in awe of nature," she says. "I linger in the garden from dawn until dusk and let the plant world fill my soul."

This intrepid gardener is hoping to establish more gardens on a newly acquired 5-acre parcel of land. The idea is to have her son, who's currently studying horticulture, help her set up a garden cooperative. "We could grow food for people on a customized basis and give the extra away to the needy," she says.

While those plans are in the works, Emily is keeping herself busy learning about making compost tea and growing roses. For her, the world of gardening just keeps getting bigger and more interesting.

Last updated: 10/24/15