GC: Organic Gardening 101 - Q&A with Laurie Garretson
June 7, 2012 at 1:07 a.m.
When Laurie Garretson's son was diagnosed with leukemia nearly 40 years ago, doctors told her that he wouldn't see his third birthday. As a loving mother, she wasn't going to take the news sitting down.
"I decided that I was going to keep him as healthy as I could," she said. "So I tried to build his immune system up as best as I could."
Long before commercial medicines and organic foods were readily available, she expanded her interest in Eastern medicines and turned to plants for the answer.
Years passed, and the same doctors who diagnosed her son with cancer said he was cured at age 12.
"He's 39 years old today, so that really got me into different herbs and plants," Garretson said. She added that she can't attribute the success wholly to her self-prescribed treatment, but she knows that it made it a world of a difference in his health.
After winning the fight against cancer, her husband Mark, who is an area landscaper, told her he was interested in buying some land on Airline Road to start a nursery. They went forward with the idea.
"Back then, the organic movement hadn't started yet," she said. "Now, 19 years later, organic gardening is definitely the thing now."
With about four decades of organic gardening under her belt, she offered to share her knowledge with GC readers looking to begin or improve gardens of their own.
How did you learn everything you know about organic gardening?
My mother and my grandmother both were always gardening in the yard. For me, it grew from there. I've also had mentors along the way including Madalene Hill, who took me under her wing and taught me a lot of what I know.
I'm also an avid reader. I love to read, so I am always reading something to do with health and gardening. I always tell people the herbs are my passion and the gardening is my love. You've got to love this kind of work to do it. It is hard work, but I do love it.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in organic gardening?
To observe nature. Organic gardening is just mimicking nature. And unfortunately now, people just don't take time to just stop and look at nature. Organic gardening is just putting life back into the soil because that is what all the synthetic man-made things have done, killed off the soil. There is no microbial life, so we're just putting life back in. That is what nature does.
Things sprout and they grow, the leaves or trees die and then fall to the ground. Then it decomposes and it gives back to the soil. It's the whole circle of life thing and that is all organic gardening is. Stop and look at a flower or watch what a little bug does. It sounds simplistic, but that's all it is.
What can people do to keep their plants alive and well during the summer months?
Keeping them well fed and watered is the biggest thing. And make sure you keep an eye on them. People have busy lives and during the summer they may look at something and then see at it a few days or weeks later and it may not be doing so well. Also, being planted in the right place may make a big difference in how they perform.
Are there any plants that are ideal for the South Texas climate?
Plants that are native to this area are the ones that have made it through. They can adjust best to the changes in weather. Some examples are perennials, salvias, Texas sage and yaupon plants. There are a lot of plants out there, and they don't have to be cactus.
Also, cutting back on the lawn grasses can help. St. Augustine is a real water hog. We have to start thinking about conserving our water usage. It's a very precious commodity.
What are some common misconceptions people may have about organic gardening?
Mainly, most people think it's expensive. But nowadays, the prices are very comparable. I have even had some people come in and tell me, "Oh, this is about the same price as the synthetic fertilizers that I buy." So that is one thing.
Another thing is that organic fertilizers will take a little longer for you to see results, it doesn't happen that fast. You have to remember that this is nature, and it doesn't act like commercial stuff.
Generally, it does take a little longer depending on the condition of your soil and other things.
What kinds of natural or organic fertilizers or pesticides are available for gardeners?
Everything you do - that can be done conventionally - can be done organically. There is a good bug for every bad bug out there. A guy was in just a little while ago who heard me and another lady talking about beneficial wasps, and he hadn't heard about that.
That really surprises people. I can always see a light bulb go off in their head when I start explaining things. Surely, people know there are good bugs out there, but they don't stop to think about it. Not everything has to be done with man-made products.
Are there any other questions people ask that you think are important for people?
Well, people need to know that it's available out here. Again, a guy came in the other day and said he had no idea all of this was available. People have found us online or they'll be very shocked there is a place. They're always very happy about it, but it does surprise people that we are here to help.