SHOHOLA - Fascinated by the process of growth, every year for more then 30 years Ralph and Linda Pinto have enhanced their home by planting numerous flowers and vegetables in a very large garden on their property in Shohola Township.
For Ralph, his interest was sparked as a child, when he helped his grandmother in her garden at her home in Jersey City. Ralph credits his grandmother for teaching him where food comes from and how it grows, because as a “city kid” he was used to asphalt, but yet, seeing “something grow out of dirt” was “fascinating” he said.
Linda’s liking for gardening developed as she watched her father love the outdoors, dedicating Sundays to being outside and growing tomatoes and peppers as a child in her own plot on the family’s property. Seeing the vegetables grow, that she called a “miracle” because the seeds are so tiny, but yet, they grow into something so much more.
Of the many lessons Ralph learned while working with his grandmother, one that he recalled is never giving up because of the challenges one encounters when maintaining a garden in a city as there are mice, funguses and pollution he said. But yet, she was “adamant about sticking with it,” and that transcends to having a garden in the country where there are groundhogs, deer and more.
Over the years their garden has grown, starting with mostly flowers just because “Linda loves flowers,” said Ralph. And so now, since he too likes flowers, there are various sections within their garden. Having such large garden is because he enjoys “seeing things grow,” while also sharing the benefits with family and friends. The initial investment in a garden can be costly, but the vegetables are hearty, long-lasting and taste better then what’s found in a grocery store he believes.
Nearly all of their flowers and vegetables start from seeds in the couple’s small greenhouse, because they try not to buy plants. Having a greenhouse, that Ralph said gives them a “head start” since they grow some plants in the cooler months too. By growing their own, they are then able to share with their friends and since Linda is the president of the Milford Garden Club, there is a lot of exchanging of plants among members.
Having never measured their garden, Ralph estimated it to range in a quarter of an acre of land. Their garden being so large, he acknowledged that it makes for “a lot off work.” Being outside, however, watching things grow and playing in the dirt, are some of the reasons he likes to garden. It is the “renewal” of things, that makes a difference since winters can be long and then, he is able to see the flowers and vegetables grow, he said.
At their home all those years ago, what is present started because Linda wanted a raised bed and as a result, on that Mother’s Day a truckload of manure was delivered and two raised beds were created. Overtime, as they invested hours into their garden, it grew with more and more raised beds and eventually a garage was removed. Today, Linda said further expansion of their garden is unlikely due to limited space available.
Many of the plants in their garden are perennials, so they return every year. Linda figures there are 150 plants in their garden, all that can live within three of the four seasons and some are annuals like the black-eyed Susan vine or the dragon wing begonias that offer lots of color. Some of the flowers, such as the Siberian irises actually came from Grey Towers were the couple have volunteered their gardening knowledge. Ideas for some, came after the couple returned from England where they toured larger gardens and learned about texture and color in their travels, said Linda.
While their garden has grown, and there’s a vast variety in it, Linda said there really is “no organization” in that, the goal is simply to have beautiful flowers that “contrast in color and texture.”
As for vegetables, there is a little bit of everything Linda said, that include ornamental lilies acquired from another gardener who had many varieties of day lilies and bocha that she described as being “delicious” and a Japanese celery. Trying a bit of this and that, Ralph does since he is an “experimenter.” There are the traditional tomatoes and lettuce as well as radishes, swiss chard and more. Also in the mix are Mexican sunflowers that grow upwards and out.
Just recently, pole beans were planted that will grow upwards like a vine. As for potatoes, there are a “variety” said Linda, along with zucchini, squash, bush beans, carrots, kale and peas. Trial and error continues however, since the couple are attempting to grow asparagus, but the challenge is that the soil is “too heavy” for the vegetable and it takes two to three years to actually “become asparagus.” But, Linda feels in their garden, trying is something that must be done. This is just their second year for growing parsley. Spinach, Linda said is the most challenging to grow because a lot of water is needed and heat doesn’t help in the growing process. Growing carrots, that too isn’t always easy because the soil must be “heavy” and so, knowing when to pick them is essential.
Having grown their own vegetables for so long, because of that Linda said its hard to buy them from a grocery store because of how they look and the taste is “absolutely” different; along with the shelf-life, some vegetables can last three weeks after being picked from their garden.
Simply, Linda said “critters” pose the greatest challenge to gardening and she has learned over time, no matter the gardener, most feel animals make gardening a task as she actually met a woman from Alaska who competes with moose in her garden and another from Kansas who struggles with pigs. Across the country, deer offer the greatest trouble.
As for time, Linda figures Ralph spends three to four hours a day, watering and maintaining their garden because he has the “instincts and passion.” Just recently, however, she decided to maintain an area of the flower garden because of their “different gardening styles.”
Learning after 33 years
Despite having had a garden for 33 years, just recently the couple learned that only one person should water the plants Linda said, because each person has their “own watering style” which affects the plants. It’s important to be consistent, because it doesn’t take much for wilting to occur.
Composting is a part of the process as well, with the couple combining leaves, coffee and table scraps that are vegetable based. During their travels, they learned not to turn the soil over and to always put the compost on top so they are “layering” explained Linda, so the microbes in the soil aren’t disturbed, which is key since they matured over time and are in the soil. Since that lesson, their plants are growing better and are “more lush.” In addition to compost, they also receive organic manure from GAIT Therapeutic Riding Center that goes on top.
The idea of having a green thumb, that Linda wasn’t sure about, because she believes a lot is about a person having the right “instinct” since people have their own talents. For a prosperous garden, she does feel a person must love gardening and nature and “be forgiving” since some ideas won’t work. Weeding aside, pruning too is a task explained Linda, because with some bushes, they must be trimmed so they don’t waste the energy of the roots, and that will keep it upright.
For Linda, she likes gardening because it “brings you back to earth” she said, since the concept and work is rather “basic.” What starts with addressing the soil and removal of the weeds, goes on to include beautiful flowers that are “incredible.” The satisfaction she has while gardening and once done is great, because she likes when her “hands are moving” and she is able to “create.” Together, they each bring their knowledge to their garden and they “complement one another” while keeping an award winning garden.