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Lawn gone, now garden of eatin’

By on July 25, 2020 in Uncategorized with 1 Comment
Frank and Danielle Harris are proud of their backyard bounty.

Lawn gone, now garden of eatin’

By Mary Bean

While some of us spent this spring devouring YouTube videos, watching Netflix non-stop and doing far too much online shopping and eating, Danielle and Frank Harris found a way to get outside, get lots of exercise and build something for the future. 

When the pandemic hit, Danielle and Frank decided to keep busy — very busy. 

 But let’s start with last summer. Not long after they bought a house down the street, I noticed four new wooden raised garden beds on the property where the former owner had parked his RV and maintained a lawn. 

Next, there were black drip hoses weaving among the boxes and newly installed trellises. 

I watched throughout the summer as seeds turned to sprouts, that in turn became vegetable plants. 

By the end of the summer the plants were heavy with the fruits of their labor, then in fall, the soil was turned and the beds “put to bed” for the winter.

So, what happened this year? 

“We really didn’t plan on expanding the garden this year. It just worked out that way.” Danielle Harris explained. “I was sort of out of work when the COVID lockdown happened. We’d done a lot of work in the house over the winter and it was so good to finally do something outside.”

Frank and Danielle cleared their side yard, then removed a rock wall and built a block wall in its place, before constructing the wood-framed beds, making gravel walkways and, finally, planting seeds.

That “something” got the whole neighborhood’s attention. Each time I walked my dog past their house, the pile of trees and shrubs they were removing from the property grew exponentially higher. 

When there was no longer any vegetation on the south side of their lot, Danielle and Frank could be seen taking down the existing retaining wall, one big basalt rock at a time. 

Almost overnight it seemed, a new retaining wall appeared — much more robust and neatly stacked — in their preferred location. Next came a monster mound of gravel that later was spread on walkways between 11 beds, and finally a fence surrounded it all, to keep out hungry deer. 

By now, the neighbors were curious and started deliberately steering their walks past the Harris’ house. 

“It was really nice,” Danielle said. “Everyone was out on their walks around the community and they got to see us dig out the plants, take down the retaining wall, put up the new one, put in the beds. It was fun that everyone could be a part of it. One day I saw someone walk down from their cul-de-sac just to look at the garden, then turn around and go home.”

I caught Danielle working in the garden as I walked by one day and asked her if she and Frank would be willing to share their story. The mere feat of clearing the lot and lugging rocks had impressed me, and now I was gazing at 11 raised beds, overflowing with green. I assumed they had been gardeners for years. 

Actually, that was not the case at all. 

Frank described their very first experience gardening at their previous place in Wenatchee — a rental that had a tiny plot of earth.

“We planted two tomato plants, two pepper plants, a pea plant that died really quick and a watermelon that never came up.” 

Danielle laughed good-naturedly and added, “Yeah, so we basically watered a lot of things but didn’t get much to show for it… but we got interested in it.”

Danielle’s mom got her a wig when she was diagnosed with alopecia at age 12, but as in other aspects of life, Danielle prefers to ‘go natural.’

Their experience last summer proved much more fruitful, “It went pretty darn well last year,” Danielle beamed. “Lots of learning.”

“And how did you learn how to do this?” I asked. 

“We spent a lot of time researching on the internet,” Frank replied. 

“But we learned most by just trying something and then doing a lot of observing,” Danielle added.

Observing is how they have managed to meet their biggest gardening challenge: bugs. “We use soap and neem oil, but mostly hand pick the insects off,” Frank shared.

As a butterfly fluttered through our conversation, Danielle laughed: “I was going to say ‘Look at that pretty butterfly,’ but now I know it’s a cabbage moth!”

She went on to explain they’ve learned that ants “farm” aphids. “The aphids produce this sticky sweet stuff the ants love, so even if you can’t see that your plants have aphids, the ants will let you know.”

Frank and Danielle go beyond just trying to avoid pesticides and herbicides. They’ve built three compost bins in the backyard that produce nutrients for the garden. 

And they got rid of the back lawn.

“The dog had already ruined the grass,” Frank chuckled. “So, we chipped all of the vegetation we cleared from the property and spread it as wood chips in place of the grass.” 

When I asked what inspired them to garden, Frank replied, ”It’s cool to grow and eat veggies. It’s fun to explore different stuff you’ve never seen before, like heirloom varieties. And I think it’s good to get closer to our food. 

“It’s so silly, you know; someone drops a carrot on the floor and they throw it away because it’s dirty. They don’t even consider that it was pulled out of a pile of dirt in the first place.”

A big benefit of the garden — besides healthful homegrown food — is that the Harris’ have met so many people in the neighborhood. 

“The neighbors became part of it. That’s why we made the little watercolor signs, so they could know what was growing and keep track of it.”

In addition to the garden, I was curious to know how their life is different now than when they lived in Seattle, where Danielle finished dental school and Frank worked (and continues to work) for Amazon.

“It’s slower,” Frank said. “And cleaner. “We moved here to be closer to the outdoors and the recreation.”

Like me, Frank, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, had never even seen mountains until he did an internship in Seattle.

Danielle, a Washington native, concurred. “We love the outdoors; hiking, running, climbing.”

The transition from city life was made even easier when the Harris’ decided to take on another challenge before settling into their Wenatchee home.

“We put our things in storage and spent three months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail,” Danielle shared.

“It was pretty easy to adjust to the slower pace of Wenatchee after that,” Frank chimed in.

And next year? I asked, gazing across what was once a front lawn that is now covered in black plastic secured with rocks.

“I want to grow loofas!” Danielle said.

“And edible berries, maybe some fruit trees,” Frank added. “But not this year!”

In closing I asked Frank what advice he might give to others.

“Anybody can grow things; you just have to try.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

Frank grinned and quipped; “Yeah — eat your vegetables!”

Mary Bean is a dog-loving nonfiction writer who occasionally dabbles in poetry and fiction. She is a current member of Write On The River.

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  1. Patrick Daly says:

    Danialle is a grand daughter who is loved by everybody who ever meets her, and frank Harris her wonderful husband are two of a kind. Exceptional!😍 it seem what ever they do, is an encouragement to all who know them! They are truly LOVED!

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