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Phyllis Gardner, Grover Beach, Calif.

Making the Most of a Gardening Paradise

Phyllis Gardner
Red plastic mulch and tomato ladders help Phyllis Gardner grow super-sweet tomatoes.

It's hard not to be envious of Phyllis Gardner. Her home in Grover Beach is just a mile from the southern California coast, and for a gardener, it's pretty close to paradise: year-round growing conditions, a light freeze during just one month of winter, cool ocean breezes, and enough warmth for heat-loving crops. These ideal conditions are not lost on Phyllis, and she's taking full advantage of all the climate has to offer.

Phyllis has been gardening in southern California all her life. "Although my grandfather was a gardener, I didn't start gardening myself until I was an adult living in Diamond Bar, near Pomona," she says. "Diamond Bar has clay soil, so I was happy to move to Grover Beach where the soil is much lighter," says Phyllis. She's been in her present house 16 years and her 60x150-foot lot is loaded with flowers, fruits and vegetables.

A Southern Californian Flower Garden

Phyllis grows a mix of traditional and non-traditional flowers, such as carnations, iris, mandevilla, Hawaiian ginger, gladiolus, fuchsia and azaleas. However, she has a special fondness for roses, and has planted them all around the house. "I love the fragrant rose varieties. Some of my favorites are 'Double Delight', 'Queen Elizabeth', 'Sterling Silver' and 'John F. Kennedy'", she says. "They bloom for 10 months in my climate," she says. Phyllis enjoys them in the garden and takes cut flowers to patients at the local hospital.

She uses Grow Through Supports and Gathering Rings to keep other flowers, such as gladiolus, from flopping over. "The grow-through supports are particularly great for the carnations. They help keep the stems straight for better cutting," she says.

Phyllis Gardner
When it's time to make dinner, Phyllis heads to her backyard produce market.
The Food Garden

While the flowers in Phyllis' garden are beautiful, one of the joys of living in coastal southern California is the diversity of food crops one can grow. Looking at her yard, it's easy to see that the produce section of a well-stocked grocery has nothing on Phyllis. She grows all the usual vegetables, such as tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, sweet corn, summer squash, cucumbers, bell peppers and eggplant.

The real treats are the fruits. In her small lot she manages to grow 'Braeburn' and 'Gala' apples, plums, rhubarb, raspberries, 'Haas' avocado, apricots, Mandarin oranges and lemons. Since she can grow year-round, Phyllis rarely has to buy any produce.

A Labor of Love

Many people would find it stressful to keep up with such a large and diverse home garden, but for Phyllis, gardening is a labor of love. "I'd much rather be outside than inside," she says. "Gardening is therapeutic. It gives me a chance to commune with nature and just relax," she says.

Having the right tools makes a difference. Her tomatoes peform so well, in part, because of the growing techniques she uses. "The red plastic mulch from Gardener's Supply really does boost production of my tomatoes," she says. "The Tomato Towers are great because they can be stacked on top of each other for my tall tomato varieties," she says. Phyllis' eggplants are supported by Vegetable Ladders. "I like using all the different cages and plant supports from Gardener's Supply," she says. "They are good quality and the metal isn't flimsy."

Phyllis Gardner
Phyllis gives her back and knees a break by working from a sitting position on her rolling garden scoot.

Phyllis even enjoys watering, when she's using her French Watering Can. "The angle of the nozzle and the gentleness of the spray from the rosette makes it great for watering seedlings," she says.

By combining her skill as a gardener with the mild climate of southern California, Phyllis has created an incredibly diverse and abundant garden—a slice of paradise in her own backyard.

Last updated: 10/24/15