Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2018 issue.
Master Gardener and Award-Winning Author of “The Colorado Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Gardening in the Centennial State” & “Blue-Ribbon Vegetable Gardening.”
Have you ever tried to grow a round, red, luscious tomato in your Colorado vegetable garden? Or perhaps chewable broccoli? Or lettuce or without deer nibbles? Or here’s one … a full-size Gargantuan Great Halloween Pumpkin? Do your geraniums and peonies survive the summer?
If you answer yes to any or all of the above, you’re ahead of the curve for most aspiring Colorado green thumbs and weekend homesteaders. Even if you’ve successfully grown a gorgeous or edible harvest, Jodi Torpey’s books are go-tos and both belong on your shelf.
Jodi shares her Denver home with Ivy, a rescue/shelter mix of Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Dalmatian and some kind of crazy terrier. A genuine sweet hybrid! Although fans of indoor container gardening, they relish the warm summer growing season. Their favorite way to spend the day together? Get outside and dig!
Globe Pequot Press recognized Jodi’s horticultural expertise from published articles and recruited her to write an insider’s guide to gardening in Colorado. “It’s the book I wished I had when I first started gardening,” she says. “Colorado is one of the most challenging places to garden — poor soil, wild weather, little precipitation and intense sunlight. And that’s on a good day and I’m a Colorado native!”
What has proven to be most unique and important about this book, now in its second edition?
All gardening is regional — what works in the mountain region is significantly different from successful gardening in the south. A state-specific gardening book is even more useful because it includes the quirks of gardening in the different parts of our beautiful state and offers solutions for overcoming those challenges.
What changes/new information appear in the revised second edition? Why did you update?
The state-by-state gardening approach proved so successful that Globe Pequot requested a 2014 update. In the second edition, I added more of everything, including expanded plant lists and more how-tos, especially for vegetable gardening, growing in shade, xeriscaping, and saving water in the landscape. The book has illustrations, but the front and back cover images, by John Pendleton, were taken in my own late-summer garden.
What are your favorite things to grow in your own garden? Your vegetables have won blue ribbons at state and county fairs. What are the most successful?
I covet the Rose Monster, a John Cabot climbing rose that covers the arbor leading to the backyard. It’s massive and glorious in June when covered with pink, fragrant roses.
I also love to grow heirloom tomatoes (especially Black Krim), all kinds of hot chili peppers, unusual eggplants, squashes and culinary herbs (especially basil). And it’s fun to experiment with drought-hardy plants to see what will survive in the xeriscape.
In addition to the revised “The Colorado Gardener’s Companion” from Globe Pequot, you recently published “Blue-Ribbon Vegetable Gardening” with Storey Publishing … both books are award-winners. You’re tops in the field! Any simple tips?
I garden by the master gardener mantra of “put the right plant in the right place” to give plants the best conditions for success. High altitude gardeners can grow juicy red tomatoes, but it takes the right kind of tomato seeds and some extra work.
I avoid plants that I know will be too fussy or require too much care. I have a small garden bed where I grow heirloom tomatoes, but I prefer to grow the rest of my fruits, vegetables and herbs in containers on the patio.
How do you nurture yourself and others?
For starters, lots of fresh fruit in season and hot Earl Grey tea!
Next, gardening is a meditation because the simple act of placing a plant or seed in the soil relaxes the mind by focusing on the task at hand. There’s a growing body of research that shows the health benefits of gardening, plus if you grow your own organic produce, it adds creativity to your cooking, too. I’ve become an expert at small-batch preserving with the produce I grow. I’m passionate about helping others learn how to grow their own food — and then share the extra with others.
The most beautiful part of my home is the cocktail garden in the backyard! When the weather is warm, it’s the ideal place to relax after work with a cool drink and enjoy the view of the hummingbird feeder and other watchable wildlife in the yard. Butterflies, bees, other insects, squirrels, birds — they all love the cocktail garden, too.
So about the wildlife … how do you recommend humans create a sustainable relationship between their gardens and their favorite wildlife?
My approach is to live and let live. I’m one of those gardeners who feeds squirrels and plants extra to share with them instead of trying to keep them out of the garden. Planting choices can make a difference, too. For example, there are ornamental plants that deer will resist. I always recommend 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plantsby Ruth Rogers Clausen. Colorado State University Extension (Fort Collins) also has many free resources for dealing with wildlife in the landscape.
How do you continue to grow your daily life?
Open mind, open heart, open attitude. And wrap me in green … my favorite color!
Jodi Torpey’s writing appears on her website and in many other home and garden digital and print media.