Gone Green! Gayla Trail and You Grow Girl
You Grow Girl™ was launched by Gayla Trail in February 2000 and has grown into a thriving online community that speaks to a new kind of gardener, seeking to redefine the modern world relationship to plants. This contemporary, laid-back approach to gardening places equal importance on environmentalism, style, affordability, art, and humour.
Now in it's seventh year online, You Grow Girl™ has become a thriving community for likeminded gardeners and even self-confessed “black thumbs.” The project's aim has always been to promote exploration, excitement and a d.i.y approach to growing plants without the restrictions of traditional ideas about gardening. While we have never said "You must do things this way" organic growing and a motto of “Do no harm” has always been the platform to start from. I strongly believe that most people take the plants around them and the food they eat for granted, and that if they are encouraged to see the wonder of plants and the relative ease with which they can be grown, it will foster a respect for nature that will extend beyond their backyards.
photo by Rannie Turingan
I must admit that gardening, for me, always seemed like something that other people did; other older people did. Gardening was something that “I will eventually get to” when I’ve got some extra time on my hands.
Meeting Gayla Trail and discovering You Grow Girl has definitely changed all of that...
I really couldn't find my own experience as a gardener reflected in any garden related media. At the time gardening was very much directed at a particular demographic -
I started You Grow Girl as an online magazine.
I came up with the idea in the late 90's and I launched the first issue in February 2000. The idea sprang from my personal experience as a web designer. I was in my twenties at the time, I didn't have a lot of money and I was living in an apartment...
DR: What was the particular gardener demographic that was getting all of the attention?
GT: Older people with a lot of surplus cash and people with big suburban yards. When they would talk about "postage stamp yards" or very small gardens, even those gardens were huge compared to what my experience was. The ways that gardening was designed at the time was horrible and it was hard to find people writing about gardening in a way that wasn't snooty or intimidating. My experience as a gardener was just not reflected and I had to assume that there had to be other people like me out there somewhere.
Because I was a designer, I had the skills to design my own website. So I went ahead and created a website with the idea that I would find those other people that were like me.
DR: Tell me about the launching of You Grow Girl?
GT: I promoted it to anybody that I knew.
My partner and I were belonged to several design and artist communities and initially those were the people that we promoted the site to. It became known at the time for the design and we expanded from there and the people who were interested in gardening started coming out of the wood work.
DR: What do you like most about what you do?
GT: I like the gardening!
DR: What is it about gardening that you like so much?
YOU GROW GIRLTHE GROUNDBREAKING GUIDE TO GARDENING
This is not your grandmother's gardening book.
You Grow Girl is a hip and humorous how-to for the blossoming generation of crafty gals who want to get their garden on.
Written and designed by Gayla Trail, the creator of YouGrowGirl.com, You Grow Girl guides aspiring gardeners every step of the way in transforming a tiny fire escape or a suburban backyard into the lush garden of your dreams. Along with all the ins-and-outs of soil, seeds, sowing and growing, You Grow Girl is chock full of fun and funky projects that make gardening more than just growing plants. You will learn to grow and bag your own tea, make hand salve and hair rinse out of plants from your garden, transform thrift-store finds into cool containers, and even sew your own stylie gardening apron!
Click here for more information.
GT: Gardening cultivates patience.
Plants grow quickly but we can't control that. Gardening teaches us about learning through making mistakes as well as success.
I like touching plants and getting my hands in soil. I often go out and fuss with my plants when I am feeling tense. Just looking at a plant is said to lower your heart rate. I imagine that touching and interacting with plants is even better.
Plants grow and gardens change. I am much more aware as a result of gardening. It has enhanced my ability to observe and to tune into when to expect things to happen.
I like that it there is a ton of room for experimentation as a gardener. I love to experiment and try new things so I consider my gardens to be like testing gardens where I can try different varieties or strategies.
Gardening satisfies my artistic side but also my puzzle-solving brain.
DR: Sounds like it also gives you a sense of how things are connected and how things work together...
GT: Very much so.
It has also given me a deeper sense of where my place is in the world, which has made me much more protective and much more active in terms of environmentally doing my part.
My gardens have been good for my self esteem. Growing your own food is especially good for the self esteem. It gets you away from a dependency on our food system. When you grow your own food you get this sense of being able to take care of yourself in a particular way.
In this culture we are very dependent on certain official regulations. We depend on the grocery store to provide us with food. Gardening to grow our own food is one step toward realizing that we can take more control of taking care of ourselves.
DR: That is one of the things that I find so fascinating about what you do. "From the dirt to the table", knowing where the food that you are eating came from how it was cared for develops a kind of understanding and consciousness that contributes to overall good health.
You have got to know exactly what you are putting into your body!
I have a much better understanding of my own health because I have a much better understanding of the food system and the way that the agricultural system has been working in North America, and the way that it has not been working. That makes me a much better consumer. I know what it takes to grow food so I go to the farmers market every week and I put my money there, buying from local organic farmers who I know are working hard and doing a good job. Like I said that makes me a more powerful consumer. The food that you grow is so much better that you won't accept less at the grocery store.
DR: If you had to sum up the benefits of growing your own tomato or your own green bean, as opposed to just unconsciously buying that tomato or green been at the grocery store, how would you do that?
GT: If you are growing a green bean in your own yard, the distance that food has to travel to get to your table is minimum. And even environmentally -- you are not using fossil fuel to get that green bean from Mexico to your plate.
The other thing is that you have control over what you use to grow that green bean. Being a gardener has given me a better sense of holistic living, and that makes it much easier for me to question for example how doctors want to treat me when I am sick. I can figure out how to help myself now, mostly through my diet - what I am eating.
Growing your own food gives you a say in the varieties that are available to you. I don't grow the kinds of tomatoes that they sell in the grocery store. I grow old varieties of tomatoes that have not been altered genetically, instead of growing a monoculture.
Also, I am not growing rows and rows of one type of tomato. I'm not even growing in rows. I don't grow my food collectively in companion planting. I grow them in groupings of plants that are good for the environment.
DR: I am just imagining how communities would benefit from people really taking it upon themselves to start their own gardens, however big or small and grow their own food!
GT: If you've got land, and by that I mean even just a small back yard or a small outdoor space in the city, and you are growing a garden with a lot of plants as opposed to just a lawn where there is just this one plant, you are making a huge contribution, especially if you are growing native plants, plants that are indigenous to your area.
DR: Are most of your plants edible?
GT: Yes. About 90% of what I grow is edible.
I have three gardens. In one garden I don't grow edible food only because it is right on the street and the soil has never been tested so it's not a safe place to grow food. But in the other two gardens almost everything is edible.
Today's generation is so removed from producing their own food. Kids think that touching dirt is disgusting. Too many kids have been taught indirectly that if food doesn't look perfect then it is bad food. Growing your own food helps you realize that good food doesn't look perfect. There is no exact perfect size or shape. People throw away potatoes for instance that are not a perfect oval. They throw the wonky ones away and they just go to waste. When you realize that good things do not come out exactly perfect, you have learned something valuable. That will reverse your conscious about a lot of things.
DR: I think that this is a really important message for kids to get early...
GT: There are a lot of school programs now where kids are growing gardens on school grounds and the food is actually brought from their gardens into the cafeteria and they eat it! So for example, they will do a salad bar which consists of the food that they grew in their own gardens, which makes the kids want to eat the food because they know that they grew it! And suddenly something that was previously boring or disgusting is appealing.
DR: What would you say to someone like me who is fascinated with gardening but who has no idea how to start?
GT: Start small.
Regardless of how much space and time you have, start small. Think about what it is that you want to grow and consider your particular conditions and then start small.
A lot of people start out with herbs. Herbs are good to start with because they are not too demanding.
Mint is very strong and very aggressive...easy to grow...
Mint is a good plant to start with. Mint loves shade...
DR: And I love mint...
GT: Well, there you go!
ABOUT GAYLA TRAIL
Gardener, photographer, graphic designer, and crafty gal Gayla Trail is the creator of the acclaimed gardening website www.YouGrowGirl.com. Gayla's love for gardening began with parsley seeds planted in a Styrofoam cup when she was five years old. Inspired by the potato plants her grandmother grew in a bucket on her senior center's fire escape, Gayla has always gardened in whatever space she had available. An urbanite living in Toronto, Canada, she now splits her gardening time between a rooftop deck, a community garden plot, and a formerly barren patch of public land on a busy urban corner.
Gayla's work has been featured in magazines, newspapers, on radio, and television programs across North America including: ReadyMade, Venus, BUST, The National Post, Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Gardening Life, LA Times, Canadian House and Home, 2 Magazine, Gardening and Deck Design, Life Magazine, News World, Studio 2, and more.
Gayla is also a frequent speaker and spokesperson on the topics of urban gardening, ecology, and community. She gives hands-on demonstrations to audiences of all ages and has travelled across North America to speak at garden shows, environmental events, horticultural societies and gardening events. Selected past topics and appearances include:
photo by Davin Risk
- Canada Blooms: Urban gardening demo, Guerilla Gardening.
- The Stratford Garden Festival: What I Love About Gardening, Growing Edibles, Current Gardening Trends.
- Vegetable Gardening Symposium (Oregon): Gardening with Limited Resources and Challenging Spaces
- Portland, Oregon and Earth Day Toronto: Growing From Seed Workshop
- BlogHer Conference 2006 Is the Next Martha Stewart a Blogger?
- Leafscapes Urban Gardening Events, New York, and Chicago.
- Toronto Botanical Garden: Creating a Sanctuary in the City
- GrassRoots: Urban Gardening: No Backyard Required