This interview with OttoH is from our january 2013 issue of the GT News.
1. How did you first get started at gardening?
I started gardening by weeding the family vegetable garden, it was the daily task in the summer for my four brothers and I. I was in the gardens ever since I could crawl and it was an assigned chore when I was in the first grade at school.
2. What was it about gardening that initially caught your interest, enticing you to get into it at the level you are now?
The first thing that actually caught my fancy was going to the beautiful gardens at the Como Park Zoo in Minnesota. I loved going through the outside and inside gardens, seeing all of the plants and seeing the birds and butterflies attracted by them. When we were young my mother’s family got together there every year for picnics, we went through the gardens and adjoining play area at least a couple of times every summer.
3. Tell us a bit of history of your journey from that beginning to where you are today
First of all if you told me a few years ago that I would buy two acres of land in the country to transform it into my own private gardens and park I would have told you that you were crazy.
I of course started by weeding the vegetable gardens at a very young age, then when I was able to most of the time distinguish between a weed and a flower I graduated into weeding the flower gardens, although there were times when I found the weeds more attractive than the plants and pulled the wrong item.
My dad bought a summer cabin in Wisconsin on several acres of land and we put in a ½ acre vegetable garden and multiple fruit trees that we tended by hand. I remember going out into the woods and finding gooseberries, rhubarb, and wild asparagus that we would munch on along the way, when I sit back and close my eyes I can still taste them, especially the asparagus.
When I graduated from High School I joined the Air force and spent twenty years living a nomadic life. We had the typical flower gardens and a few vegetables from time to time, then while stationed at Langley Air Force Base we moved into a 100 year old farm house on 17 acres of land in Poquoson, tended Christmas Trees for the landlord and put in two large vegetable gardens.
For the next ten years my gardening was not to be, I was busy going to college and starting a new job. Then I started travelling the world for work and was unable to keep up with anything. We bought our current house in 2008 just after I had a stroke and I started gardening in earnest as a stress reliever. I changed up the gardens in my yard a couple of times a year and dove into it full force. For Christmas 2010 my wife signed me up for the Master Gardeners program which helped my understanding of plants and their proper placement and care immensely.
In the beginning of 2012 I got the bug big time to find a spot in the country we could eventually move to and in the spring we bought our two acre lot that was sectioned off of a tree farm. We are now in the process of making it what we want and I will be buying a tractor with a front-end loader and a backhoe in February to help in the landscaping.
4, What inspires you regarding additions to your gardens?
I am very eclectic and find inspiration in many different ways. My two main inspirations are butterflies and birds. I love plants that attract them. I find inspiration in my alone time with God, and I am currently designing a small chapel that I plan to build this spring with the trunks of the trees that I had to cut down on the land. I love vining flowers and love to have Passion Flowers and Morning Glories all around. I have just seeded 650 feet of fence line with morning glory seeds. I love Garden Elves, and Fairies and have been known to sneak them in here and there throughout the gardens. I am also planning a railroad (that I will build from scratch) through the land that will be big enough for the grandkids and I to ride on as we tour the gardens, who knows I may have to build a train station and water tower along the route.
5. What are the greatest challenges that you have met along the way? (and how did you overcome them)
The biggest challenge I have had to overcome was my own frustration because of my lack of understanding. When I would plant and tend something just to have it die, I would get frustrated throw my hands up in the air and question just why the heck I was doing this anyway. Then I began to realize that gardening is not about instant gratification, that it is a journey, that if you let it, it will take you on a wondrous route. I learned to pay attention to the plants, to play detective and find out why they were not doing well and to adapt the area and sometimes to just change the type of plant because it was not intended for the region.
Another challenge that I had was the Home Owners Association (HOA). They wanted the final say on everything from how my gardens were shaped to what plants I put in and what type of mulch I used. Then one day the HOA Yard Cops made the mistake of stopping by my house as I was working in the front gardens to ask if I had put in a request to change the plants. I let them have it with both barrels and told them that I could either pull out all the gardens, let the yard go to nothing but grass and not have a colorful spot on a main corner, or they could dang well leave me alone and let me tend to my gardens as I see fit. They have not bothered me since.
6. What is the greatest reward that you have received from gardening? (personal or tangible)
The greatest reward that I get from gardening is my Andy time.
I come to the garden alone – While the dew is still on the roses – And the voice I hear falling on my ear – The Son of God discloses – And He (Andy) walks with me, and He (Andy) talks with me – And He (Andy) tells me I am his own – And the Joy we share as we tarry there – none other has ever known
In all seriousness the time alone with God is the greatest reward in gardening. To talk through daily and life troubles, to get up off my knees brush away the dirt and have the cares of the world fall to the ground with the dirt is an amazing feeling.
7. What is your favourite tool that you use for gardening?
My hands are my favorite tool, I like to feel the dirt between my fingers as I dig, plant, and weed. If you want an actual tool, it is a player piano spring weeder. My Grandfather, Otto Berger Hallberg built and tuned Pipe Organs, and repaired and tuned Pianos for a living. I have a weed puller that was made from one of the Player Piano Bellows Springs that he had in his shop. Although my Grandfather died when I was very young I feel close to him when I use this weed puller.
8. What is your favourite creation in/for your gardens?
My favorite creation is my Garden Elf Door. http://gardentenders.com/projects/574 this is a bit of Scandinavian
fun that I have incorporated into my gardening. And yes I do believe that my Garden Elf who is named Hortus does come alive and does help me in my gardens.
9. What tips would you give to someone just starting out or currently struggling with gardening?
DON’T GIVE UP! – That is the number one tip, it gets frustrating at times, but it will come.
Find a reputable nursery in the area with a knowledgeable staff, they can help you out immensely.
Walk the neighborhood, see what others have planted, see what is doing well and what is not, talk to your neighbors, see if they would recommend the plants in their yard or if they would recommend staying away from them.
If there is a local Master Gardener organization, go to their meetings, use them as a resource. You do not have to be a member to attend the seminars, and they have to do a certain number of hours of volunteer work or on the help line every year to keep their certification.
10. How did you find GardenTenders and what is it that keeps you coming back?
I found GardenTenders through the LumberJocks website. I enjoy woodworking and was looking for a site with tips, projects and camaraderie. From there I discovered GardenTenders. I keep coming back because of the people and their love for gardening. I enjoy seeing what others are doing, rejoicing when their projects turn out well and learning from their errors when they do not. Although my health (some after effects from my stroke and fighting dementia) and my wife’s health have kept me from participating in the site as much as I would like, I still manage to get out there to see what is going on regularly. Now that my wife is healthy and my dementia is clearing up I hope to be back as a contributing member full force.
-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)