IMAGE: Rodney Bender
Idaho transplant Terri Phillips has more excuses than you do to leave gardening to the pros, but each year she nevertheless manages to coax a sizable bounty out of her small yard in North Portland.
For starters, Phillips’ garden is about the size of a minivan. No joke. She’s currently growing sugar snap peas, lettuce and parsley in a space that’s almost too small to lie down in. In late summer and early autumn, she’ll see a bumper crop of onions, hot peppers, sweet peppers, tomatillos and patty-pan squash, to name a few.
It hasn’t always been this way. Since 2004, Phillips has lived in one half of a smallish, one-story house off Northeast Killingsworth Street with her husband, Dan, and a garrulous miniature pinscher named Rica. When she moved in, her yard was a moonscape. According to Phillips, “It was nothing but a couple of grubby geraniums and cement-stake clotheslines.”
What’s even more impressive is the fact that Phillips lives with a disability. After a childhood struggle with polio she lost the use of her left leg, and these days she walks with the aid of a cane. But that doesn’t stop her from tending her garden on a daily basis.
“Terri’s is a very inspiring garden.”
That’s Rodney Bender, garden programs manager for Growing Gardens, a Portland-based nonprofit that teaches low-income and disabled families how to grow their own food. In Terri’s case, that meant providing her with a wood-frame garden box and seeds, as well as worm and compost bins. But Terri’s also giving back.
“She’s been very active in the program,” says Bender. “She’s attended workshops, put in volunteer hours—she’s even going to be a mentor this year. It’s been great for her neighborhood.”
And her methods? Impressively, all of Phillips’ vegetables are strictly organic. She has no use for chemical pesticides, preferring scenic pest-aways like marigold, calendula and nasturtium. And she maintains that the best cure for slugs is “a flashlight in the nighttime”—100 times more effective than any synthetic agent. All that hard work translates into some darn tasty, guilt-free produce.
“My eggplants were excellent,” Phillips says. “And I had probably the best corn on the cob there ever was. About six inches to an ear, delicious little morsels.”
So what’s her advice for timid gardeners? Phillips maintains that the most important thing is to talk to veterans—they’ve got all the good tips.
“For instance, I was having trouble with powdery mildew,” she says, “and nothing I was doing seemed to work. But then I met another gardener from down the street who told me to spray my plants with whole milk. I was skeptical, but it did the trick.”