Jackie Wang, an associate on the Redmond Life Affiliate Team, grew up helping in her family’s garden. But when you’re a kid and you’re forced to, it’s not much fun. She didn’t fall in love with gardening until she was an adult. “I didn’t think it was my thing until I had some dirt with a lawn to mow and flowerbeds to weed,” Jackie says. “Gardening helps me feel connected to the earth and the soil. I love being in the dirt. It’s my happy place.”
For Jackie, working with plants is so much more than playing in the dirt; it’s connecting to what gives us life.“It sounds silly if you haven’t experienced it yet,” says Jackie. “Soil seems like an inanimate object, but it’s so alive. Dirt is full of bacteria, fungi, microbes, and little creatures that are critical to the plants we eat. If we didn’t have them in the soil, the plants wouldn’t produce and feed us the way they do. That’s pretty humbling when you think about it. We think we’re so smart, capable, and independent, but if it weren’t for the microbes, bugs, rocks, and minerals, we’d be nothing.”
That’s powerful stuff!
As an undergrad, Jackie took an Intro to Horticulture class and loved it. She quickly moved on to law school and a career in law, but that class planted a seed (sorry, had to go there) that grew into a passion for plants.
A few years ago, Jackie married her husband, Marty, and moved from her condo into a house with a little outdoor area. When she started mowing the lawn and weeding the flower beds, she realized how much she loved being outside with plants.
So, she decided to try planting a little garden. “We didn’t have much space and it was mostly shaded, so that first garden was a little sad,” Jackie says. “We started by planting a few rows of beans and peas in the flower bed.”
That first little garden came with a few mishaps. “When the peas first came up, I was so excited to see these little things poking out of the ground! But then someone’s pet rabbit got out and mowed them down. I cried! I realize it’s silly, but I was so sad for those little peas.”
Not long after the pea massacre, something ate the beans’ first leaves as well. Jackie suspected that the rogue rabbit had struck again, but learned from a neighbor and expert gardener that it was likely snails (and he was right).
That wasn’t the end of the garden, though. Jackie pulled up some of those chewed-up bean plants, and planted more. The ones she left recovered to put out new shoots. That year, Jackie and Marty got a small bean and pea harvest, along with some tomatoes they’d grown in containers. Their gardening adventures only grew from there.
A Growing Passion
After working in law for years, Jackie was ready for a career change. So Jackie started working at Redmond part-time while she went back to school for horticulture. “I loved learning about plants,” she says, “And I also loved how I was growing at Redmond. I eventually realized that even if I had the horticulture degree, I wouldn’t quit Redmond, which meant that the university classes were just a really expensive hobby.” So she went full-time at Redmond and kept up with the garden. It’s turning out to be a great life blend!
When Jackie and Marty looked for a new house, they specifically looked for more space to garden. “It’s frustrating when there are so many things you want to try and you just don’t have the space,” Jackie says. They found a house on a quarter-acre lot, which isn’t huge, but it was a step up.
Jackie and Marty’s current garden setup includes a main garden plot, some raised beds, and a few fruit trees, including peach, pear, cherry, apricot, apple, plum, and fig.
Her favorite things to grow? “Fruit trees and melons, especially cantaloupes,” Jackie says. “Raspberries and Armenian cucumbers because they’re so easy and prolific.” She also loves growing (and sharing!) tomatoes, and she still plants peas, because they’re easy to eat right in the garden. It’s impossible to pick just one thing!
Experiments in the Garden
For Jackie and Marty, a lot of the fun of gardening is experimenting!
Here are just a few of their forays into the unknown:
Gardeners, start your…seeds
They love to collect seeds on trips and start them at home. “I have lots of plants that don’t do well in this area. I’ve killed lots of experiments, and I collect more seeds than I have time to start.” Jackie did, however, plant some pawpaw and pistachio seeds that she got from a Utah seed exchange, and they’re growing!
It’s all in the timing
It’s fun to experiment with timing and see what plants are capable of. “Every season is a little different. This year, we planted tomatoes outside in walls of water during the last week of March to see what would happen. Then there were more snowstorms. The tomatoes survived, but they were stunted. I now know to be a little more patient.”
A tomato by any other name
Sometimes it’s fun to plant seeds just because of their names. “Marty likes to find tomatoes with unique names and buy the seeds. Box Car Willie, Abe Lincoln, Baby Boomer, Kellogg’s Breakfast…there are so many. We started more than twenty different varieties this year and could have started more if we had the space.”
The Great Blueberry Experiment
“Marty has a blueberry experiment. Blueberries do NOT grow in Utah because our soil and water are so alkaline. Even our rain is alkaline. But he got some acidic soil and acidifier, and tried growing them in pots. We brought them with us when we moved and thought they were dead, but they pulled through and we actually got a few berries from them this year! Those were some EXPENSIVE blueberries.”
Branching out with grafting
Jackie’s also been playing around with grafting. “We have a Bartlett pear tree, and Marty’s parents have an Asian pear. Marty had the idea to try grafting, so we grafted an Asian pear branch onto our tree, and last year we got some of both! I did a lot of apple grafting this year and it’s fun to watch grafts take. Plants are so amazing. Within certain constraints, you can essentially cut the arm off one and stick it onto another, and it will grow.”
For the Love of Life
For Jackie, gardening isn’t just about pretty flowers and making mud pies, it’s remembering our connection to nature and keeping her finger on the pulse of life.
“We take for granted how much we rely on plants and the soil that gives us life. We need plants for the air we breathe, the food we eat. Even if you’re a pure carnivore, you rely on plants because they feed your food. The soil gives us all of that. The earth gives us everything. We’re so reliant on it. We come from the earth, and I feel a strong connection there.”
Jackie is an amazing part of our team, and we love watching her growth. (And the growth of her garden!)