Ruby's Garden: An Urban Oasis

Welcome to the second installment of “Gardeners of the Merrimack Valley!” For this week’s post, I’d like to introduce you to Ruby from Lowell, MA! Ruby is a Human Resources professional by day, and has been growing food for over a decade in an urban oasis built in her concrete yard. She grows veggies in raised beds in her backyard, as well as herbs on the side of her house, and lower maintenance perennial flowers in the front. She is living proof that you don’t need to have a lush backyard in order to garden.

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Why did you decide to start gardening?

When I first bought the house, we never came back into the yard, because there was just so much inside the house to be done. Then I met Michael, and when he moved in in 2005, he was like “Mr. Handyman.” When I told him I wanted to use the bacyard and do some gardening, he started doing little things. Our first raised beds were not like this; they were made of old doors. So I started gardening. I would go on this blog, “You Grow Girl” for inspiration.

Was that your first garden ever?

I grew some things in pots on my fire escape when I was living in Brooklyn. Before that, in this house, I did everything on the porch in containers. I grew peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. I ended up killing all the tomatoes the first year because I used to smoke cigarettes, and I didn’t realize you can give them tobacco mosaic virus from planting them on the “smoking porch.”

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Where do you get your soil?

I buy my soil from Lowe’s - the cheaper organic brand, and then I amend it with my compost.

Tell us about your seed saving!

I save seeds from tomatoes, ground cherries, Swiss chard, zinnias, and spinach….really all my greens. I like to let them bolt and self seed. My ground cherries, I didn’t plant them. They all reseeded from last year. I found clusters of seedlings in my garden, so I separated them out and transplanted them wherever I could find room.

Sometimes you have a tomato that you aren’t excited about the first year, but when you save the seeds and grow them the next year, they are super delicious. That’s how I feel about a lot of the varieties - it tastes better when you save it from your own seeds.  

What’s your favorite plant?

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Tomatoes. I have maybe 65 tomato plants this year. I like to make sure I have all the varieties. Big Rainbow heirloom is one of my favorites.  I also like Green Zebra, and pink beauty as well.

What do you like best about gardening?

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It calms me down. It’s my happy place. I have a job that I love, but it’s stressful; it’s “go, go, go!” And I come back here and it’s like a different place. And I love that I use a lot of the stuff to cook. I love cooking [check out her cooking blog, Ruby’s Culinary Adventures]. I get a lot of the vegetables I eat from the garden.

What advice would you give someone who wants to learn more about gardening?

Don’t be afraid! When I first started I had a not-so-great year, and look where I am now! Keep at it and do your research. Join a group or find a blog. You don’t have to know everything. And you will have failures, but you will learn what you can do differently in the future.

How many plants have you killed?

Lots!

Thank you for sharing your garden with us, Ruby! You are an inspirational and aspirational urban gardener, and I loved having an inside look!

Bethany Bellingham