I can’t remember not being a gardener. Both of my grandmothers grew up on farms and took their love of growing things with them to their suburban homes in and outside the small town of Borås, Sweden. I am named after their mother and grandmother, who were also named Anna, and, in addition to my name, they also gave me my love for nature and gardening.
Wherever I have lived, I have found space — even if just in the form of a few pots on a balcony — to plant seeds and grow things. And so, when we moved to the Forest Knolls area in the summer of 2020 and I found myself with a sunny front yard, I couldn’t help myself. It started with a 2×8-foot raised bed placed on top of the grass, surrounded by about ten large pots and a few stakes with netting wrapped around it all. That first year, I grew tomatoes, basil, and hot peppers.
When it became clear that I would keep working from home for a while as we approached 2021, and after learning how resourceful the neighborhood deer are in figuring out how to get to those delicious greens, I decided to expand and put in a higher fence. And so, in the early spring of 2021, I began cutting and digging out countless small, manageable squares of the lawn, added four 4×4-foot raised beds, and surrounded it all with an eight-foot deer fence with a small arbor gate as the entrance.
It turned out this project would be the main way in which I got to know many of my neighbors, as they walked by and curiously asked what I was working on. Having all this new space meant I could grow more things, and so I did.
It was an amazing experience, but also an experiment through which I learned what works and what doesn’t, but mainly how to coexist with nature and let it do its thing. That includes coexisting with wildlife of all sizes. One morning in the early fall I found a 4-foot hole in the fence and all of my strawberry plants and swiss chard chomped to the ground. All in all, though, the 2021 season gave us many meals and many new friends and, by the end of the season, I was addicted and wanted more, so in early 2022 I started planning yet another expansion of the garden.
By now I had realized how therapeutic spending time out there is — from planting the seeds, to watering, to pulling weeds, to harvesting, and everything in between. This time I wanted to be more creative, so I bought cedar planks and started to design my own raised beds. Just as I was about to start the project, I injured my Achilles tendon and found myself in an orthopedic boot for the next seven weeks. I have always been known to be stubborn, but this challenge became the true test, as I decided the injury was not going to stop me. I sat on the ground, my booted leg sticking out in one direction, while cutting out more grass squares, one at a time. Everything took longer this time. But — one small step at a time — I got it done.
The result was an additional 110 square feet of garden, with a new 4×8-foot raised bed and a terraced, three-level, three times 3.5×3.5-foot raised bed, plus an area with a small birdbath in the middle.
This time I tried more new things, including fennel, beans, and spaghetti squash, the latter of which became the most amusing thing to watch, as it found the most intricate and creative ways to grow upwards and sideways in a quest for more sun. Beside that, a signature crop — and the tallest of all — has been the sunchokes, reaching up to 15 feet in height with a sea of yellow flowers every fall, while hiding underground the most delicious and nutritious tubers ready to be dug out and devoured through the winter and into the next spring. They have an amazing force, with which they cracked open the raised bed they grew in two years in a row.
How can one not love nature! Over the last three years, my garden has given us so much more than just a wonderful harvest: new friends, exercise, fresh air, wildlife encounters, resilience, therapy, and more than anything: lots and lots of joy.
[See Olsson’s garden in person on Loxford Terrace. Timelapse videos of the first two seasons of her garden (with season three coming this December) can be viewed on YouTube at the links below.] ■Anna’s Garden 2022 Anna’s Garden 2021
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