Camera poised, I sit in the warm soil while the sun stretches through the haze of the Vancouver fires. From this vantage point, I am absorbed watching nature conducting business. Couriers, laden with yellow pollen, zoom around on their invisible super-highway, reminding me of the flying cars in the Jetson’s. The lettuce has bolted, delivering up seeds as an imperative for next year’s harvest. A shiny beetle trundles over my hand to continue her muddy construction work.
“No time for pictures! Eat up!”
I am being scolded. By a four-year-old. Sensing his urgency, I look up to see a swath of chestnut curls bob down. One skillful hand scours for strawberries, while the other delivers the plunder into his mouth. Meet Henry, master strawberry eater and chief apprentice gardener at Pea Patch Gardens.
As the hunt continues, Jessica kneels next to us, teaching her toddler how to gently lift each parasol leaf to reveal its treasures. Gianna ventures over to me, all 2-year-old shyness and charm, to offer me a berry. Her generosity quickly fades and she scurries it in her mouth before I can steal it from her tanned little hand.
The harvest began with strawberries, but the bounty piled high as Henry greeted me with handfuls of Dragon Beans, Jessica festooned me with garlic and early cherry tomatoes burst with the warmth of the sun in my mouth.
Jessica Klein DiStefano is a Master Gardner and owner/founder of Pea Patch Gardens. Her philosophy is to give a hand to the hobby of gardening. But, let’s start from the beginning.
Jessica always felt compelled to plant. A window box served her well in her college dorm. After college, she commandeered a scrap of land on Capital Hill. Before boxes were unpacked in her first home, she cleared a garden space.
The tipping point came one December when the seed catalog arrived. In a lightning bolt of a moment, she felt more alive and joyous than she had in three years. It was such a strong awakening that it caused her to sit up and pay attention.
And, then she knew. She’d been practicing for this moment for a decade. Tossing aside a conventional career, she embraced her hobby and put it to work. She started by delivering wine barrel gardens, grew to planting large raised beds, ran community gardens and developed programs. Currently, you can delight in her produce at Sip in Issaquah.
As her business grew, teaching kept emerging as a critical component to gardening success. And this is where she blossomed.
Jessica now lives in the pursuit of feeding others, both from the soil and her knowledge base.
What inspires you?
I like teaching kids that carrots grow in the ground and not in the refrigerator. “My kid won’t eat a vegetable!” Send them into the garden with me. And they’ll eat everything and they may actually love it! They’ll see where it comes from. Think about it. A gelatinous, red slice of tomato on your plate and you have no idea where it comes from. It’s got warning colors, scary looking floating seeds, jello-y, mushy cold texture. Anything in the animal kingdom would go running. Why would a kid want to eat that if it shows up on their plate? Yuck! But they see a nice little round one in the sun on a plant in the garden and everyone is popping them into their mouth. I guarantee you your kid will eat it in my garden. That’s what I live for.
As a teacher, what’s your philosophy?
I’ll teach you how to grow and manage organically. But if you’re comfortable using herbicides in your garden, then I’m comfortable with that. I’m a non-militant gardener and you get to do what’s right for your family.
What’s your specialty when it comes to teaching gardening?
I love teaching from kids to seniors. I’m a hobby helper…giving people a hand in starting a new hobby. I’ll walk your garden site, help you develop a planting plan and give you and your family personal instruction on how to move forward. I’ll help you delineate your space. Give ideas on what grows well here and what doesn’t. Impart information on how to control pests.
You’re not alone. You don’t have to figure it out from the very beginning, from the ground up. I’m happy to help teach. And then, I’m here as a resource. Is something weird going on? Call me. Text me. Send me a picture. I’ll look at it and tell you. I love that interaction.
What are you most excited about right now?
We’ve just purchased Maple Valley’s Taylor Creek Nursery and will be re-opening as Hobart Gardens and Nursery in Spring 2018! It has two beautiful green houses, huge private meadow and a pole barn. We’ll be focusing on bringing you fruits, berries, vegetables, herbs and medicinal herbs. It will be a very specialized produce growing nursery. Stay tuned for more!
Last word of advice:
Plant one thing. One thing. And if you kill it. We’ll plant another. And if you kill basil, you’re in good company. You don’t have a black thumb. Everyone kills basil.