When Sue Johnson first got started in gardening, the effort was less about communing with nature and more about necessity.
“I’ve been gardening since I was a child,” she said. “But at that time, we depended on our garden to eat, so it was about sustaining our family. We canned, we put up food because it was a necessity to be able to eat through the winter.
“I think I enjoy it more now,” Johnson said with a laugh.
And if her bright eyes and easy smile are any indication, spending time gardening is paying off big dividends for the 57-year-old.
Johnson’s ranch-style home and acre-ish yard are a testament to her love of the land. Gardens surround her home, and what would normally be a green lawn is covered with flowers, fruits and vegetables and planting beds.
She eschews the traditional long rows, preferring to use her space more efficiently by planting in beds, containers and pre-determined spots she carefully lays out in a sketch book.
“I grow the things I like and often experiment with trying to grow new things,” she said. “I always grow onions, tomatoes, peas and beans. I grow the staples.”
For her, growing food is more about therapy and less about necessity these days, although Johnson said today’s tough economic times are making it more and more necessary.
“It started as an economic thing for me, and it seems to be going back to that,” she said. “For example, last year, I didn’t buy any lettuce at all and there is no comparison between what you get in the store and what you can grow. It just tastes better.”
Johnson said gardening has become her therapy over the years.
“I think I just have a relationship with dirt,” she said with a laugh. “I absolutely ruin my hands in the summer, because I can’t stand wearing gloves.
“It’s about being able to smell the dirt and see your work yield fruit,” Johnson added. “It’s like watching a baby grow. That’s my therapy. Why pay money to go to a counselor when I can get upset and just go out in the garden and work? The trouble seems to just melt away.”
She looked up from her favorite spot in her yard.
“Just look at those trees,” she said. “See how beautiful they are? That’s my therapy.”
She uses compost she creates herself on her gardens, preferring to grow organically whenever possible. Across the road from her house, Johnson and her husband, Steve, have built a compost operation that would rival many commercial producers.
“It’s a good way to recycle scraps,” she said. “It also provides food for animals and provides us with great soil. I just love the smell of the compost that results from just letting nature do its work, and once in a while, I’ll find a vegetable plant growing in it.”
While a look around Johnson’s yard could intimidate the uninitiated, she said anyone can do it.
“It isn’t that hard,” she said. “Just get a pot or two and see where that goes. All you need is a pot and a sunny location.
“I started out with a two-foot-by-six-foot row with a mattock and shovel. That’s how I started.”
Beginning gardeners should start out with finding out which way is east, according to the avid grower.
“You want to get the east sun. That’s the most important thing,” she said.
Calling herself a “lazy gardener,” Johnson said it has become a labor of love.
“I love life and enjoy many different things,” she said. “I don’t want to spend all my time in the garden, I want to do it for enjoyment. I just try to do things the smart way.
“This isn’t a task for me. This is my life.”
But Johnson said that over and above the work involved, the results are well worth the effort.
“You can take all the classes you want, but the best way to garden is to get out there and get some dirt under your fingernails,” she said with a laugh.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.