Meet our newest featured blogger, Gayla Trail, creator of YouGrowGirl.com, the hit community for enthusiastic gardeners. This internationally recognized author has spent more than a decade sharing her experiences growing in any space she could. She took some time to talk with us about her motivations and experiences in the world of plants.
1. What’s the inspiration behind your blog, and how long has it been around?
I registered the domain and started working on what the site would be (and look like) sometime in 1998 or 1999. It was launched in Feb. 2000 as an online magazine. Back then I was resistant to referring to it as a gardening webzine — I wanted to keep it open ended to being about plants in general, in whatever form that took. I had several reasons for starting it: 1. As a graphic designer it was a chance to stretch my design and writing muscles beyond the constraints of client work. 2. I was in my 20s, living in an urban center on a budget, and gardening in containers on the roof of my apartment building. I had also begun to dig up and plant the public waste space next to the building. I did not see gardens or people like me reflected in gardening media and I was looking to find a community, convinced that there must be others like me out there.
Over time I made transitions away from a seasonal, issue-based model, giving each article its own unique design, hand coding the garden journals and website, and eventually phased out other writers entirely. Now the site is where I chronicle my experiences with my gardens and the gardens that I visit.
2. How did you get into gardening?
I’ve been interested in the natural world since early childhood, even though I grew up in a townhouse complex where nature was at a minimum, and I very nearly pursued a biology degree (I switched and went into Fine Art instead). I also have a bit of survivalist mentality in that I like to know how to do things for myself. Gardening is incredibly varied and can be accessed from a variety of interests and extended into others. Cooking, community, and science are a few examples. What’s amazing is that I’ve been able to incorporate all of my interests, skills, and education into gardening and my profession as a garden communicator.
3. We love your blog posts about new plants to try. How do you decide what to grow?
I am a very impulsive plant collector and while I am known as a food gardener, I am also an equal opportunity plant obsessive. I love everything! Well, almost everything. I collect seeds on a whim, and am never quite sure what will end up in the soil until it does. I often pick up a lot of last-minute plants and it is always a struggle to decide what will make the cut. I am confined by space but am always trying to find a way to squeeze more in. I always seem to manage it, too, even though that has resulted in many inconveniences.
I travel quite a bit for work and I have come to see how much the gardens I visit and the plants I discover growing wild have influenced what I grow at home and the impulse purchases that I make. I have to try everything.
4. Thinking about your travels, where have you seen some of the most amazing gardens and plant life?
Everywhere! Honestly, you can drop me off just about anywhere and I’ll find something interesting. I love visiting botanical gardens but I also like to see what is growing wild in ditches, sidewalk cracks, or waste spaces. Whenever I arrive in a place I always check along the sides of the roads to see what is growing. I find that fascinating.
In terms of big, public gardens, I really enjoyed the Denver Botanic Gardens last June. The alpine garden was inspirational and I’ve found myself incorporating some of what I experienced there into my own garden. We also went up to their alpine garden on Mount Goliath and it was really cool and again educational to experience alpine plants in their natural elevations.
Back in December 2009 we spent a month in the Caribbean and the whole trip was one intense immersive learning experience. That trip and another to Thailand last year prompted me to start growing more big-leaved tropicals. I’d been avoiding them due to a lack of space, but once I allowed one, the floodgates opened. I ended up with something like 5 bananas and 5 alocasia/colocasias by the end of the summer last year! The last major trip I took (at the New Year) was to Northern Mexico and San Diego. I loved being along the edge of the desert where there were some really gorgeous agaves and white sages growing wild. The plants were very resinous and delicious smelling. San Diego was interesting in terms of the kinds of gardens people have. I’d like to go back to Southern California. There are a few public gardens there that intrigue me.
5. What is your favorite blog post, and why?
From my own perspective, I am most proud of the personal stories. Just about everything I write on the site comes from my own experiences, I try to keep the tone personalized rather than personal and don’t often reveal much about my background, even though it factors heavily and why I approach gardening in the way that I do. There are a few that I like, but this one called The Requirement to Garden, which delves into my cultural background and a different take on why I garden, marks a transition in how I see myself as a gardener and garden writer.
6. You’ve just published a new book (congratulations!). What’s the focus?
My most recent book, called Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces is just as the title suggests, focusing on growing herbs and edible flowers anywhere you can. Most of these plants are very amenable to tight spots, poor soil, and the kinds of difficulties that we urban gardeners face, so they’re a great choice for growing a bit of your own food if you have trouble with larger vegetables and fruit. Like my previous book, Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces, there are recipes and lots of preserving methods so you can enjoy the bounty that you produce. There are also projects that you can craft or build for the garden as well as other uses for herbs, beyond eating.