By contributing writer Kim Christopher of The Mommy Machine.
People hold all kinds of preconceived notions about Alaska. Probably the biggest misconception is that the Last Frontier is an arctic wasteland covered in snow year-round. I’m here to report firsthand that in most parts of our fair state, the ice does eventually melt, the ground gradually thaws, and greenery finally emerges in time for summer.
Alaskan summers may be short, but the hours of sunlight are long and help produce some magnificent gardens between the months of May and September. Alaskans hold several records for the world’s largest vegetables. Care for an 18-pound carrot? We can grow it! How about a 127-pound cabbage? That’s a lot of coleslaw.
It’s not just freakishly large vegetables growing up here. We boast some beautiful flowers and lovely trees and charming botanical gardens. Master gardeners all over the state spend their winters dreaming up the next summer’s flowerbeds, sketching landscaping plans and plotting garden spaces. Green thumbers plant their seeds under grow lights in the garage or next to a sunny window in the guest room or out in heated greenhouses.
You won’t find most Alaskan gardens listed in any visitor’s guide. They’re the products of quiet work by unassuming people who have lived here for decades, who garden for the love of it and just want to make their spot of ground a little prettier. They’re family, friends, and neighbors who invite you over for barbecues, which lead to strolls through their yards that result in snips from their hardy plants for you to start in your own rock garden.
My friend, Cathy, literally lives on the side of a mountain. Her home is built into a cliff, and after I’ve visited I tend to suffer a series of nightmares about losing control of my vehicle and plummeting off her driveway into oblivion. The land around her house is so steep that she can’t have a yard, so she pours her creativity into flower baskets.
Another friend has a small yard, but she isn’t into traditional vegetable gardens or flower patches. Inspired by the Glacier Gardens Rainforest in Juneau, Kandy installed an upside-down tree in her front lawn. She then climbed a ladder and worked her magic with moss and colorful annuals to create a mini flower garden on top of the tree’s root system.
My neighbors up the road have developed a stunning botanical garden that they could probably charge admission to enter. Peg provides the vision and Brian the muscle. Over the last 25 years, they have created walkways and sitting areas through an acre of birch forest behind their home. My kids refer to it as Flowertopia, and they love to play among the trails that wind through the trees.
I’ve got four children and a blog, so my time for gardening is limited. I maintain a small vegetable garden, as well as a rock garden, which I expand each year with perennials and wildflowers that my kids help plant, water, and weed. They’re nothing that anyone else would get excited about, but our family’s gardens bring us joy and help teach my daughters that even in the Far North, they can grow strong.
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