My inspiration to garden came to me at age four on Citrus Avenue, in Hollywood, Calif.
A little neighborhood friend and I were having afternoon mint tea with a child’s tea service, sitting on kids’ chairs around a kid’s table in a wonderful place in our garden, under several large rose bushes. It must have been fall or winter, with the warm sun low in the afternoon. I was in a rather day-dreamy state, and I had a vision of green low, rolling hills, a weeping willow tree and a trickling stream by it.
Every now and then over the years, I would recall my dream vision. Fifty or so years later, that dream became a reality, and that is my garden here in the hills at the Schafer Game Farm.
My mother had a green thumb and always had a lovely garden. Most of her plants were from friends. They always shared cuttings—then called slips—and self-seeded plants and starts.
There were not many nurseries then; since it was the Depression, few could afford to buy plants.
We used to go to Venice, California, to friends who had a dairy farm. Imagine a dairy farm in Venice, California today! My mom and Wally Borges, the dairy farmer, always shared plants. Wally had a beautiful garden. We would always come home with slips and a case of unpasteurized Grade AAA milk. One day, the cows got out and made a feast of Wally’s plants, including the onions. They couldn’t sell the milk for several days.
After we moved to Burbank from Hollywood, the trip to Venice in our 1936 Buick was scary, because there were no street lights on Wilshire Blvd. It was miles of darkness—Wilshire Blvd. back in the day!
Shortly thereafter, World War II broke out, and gas was rationed. Our trips to Venice were far and few between. With food rationed, the government had a plan: plant a Victory Garden! So, we did. I helped my mom a lot. She not only planted vegetables, but many fruit trees as well. She already had persimmons, figs, kumquats, guavas and various citrus trees in the garden.
We dug up the lawn in the backyard and made the Victory Garden for vegetables and more fruit. I can’t believe how fast the peach trees bore fruit. Her thumb was green!
As the years went by, with my parents first, then with my own family, we always lived in a suburban neighborhood and had a garden. I’ve never been without a plot of land to tend and enjoy.
Years later, when my life was taking another direction, driving along a country road in Washington, there it was! I was looking at the vision from my childhood. It turns out the land was for sale, and I bought it: a large piece of property with woods, meadows, ravines, streams and a huge cow pasture.
The cow pasture is where I decided to build my house. That took a year or so. Then came the garden! I had a blank canvas in that cow pasture. The process was so exciting, I knew I was in my element. I let the lay of the land, its contours, dips and rises tell me what to do. That’s how I created my garden.
Previously having lived in dry, temperate climates in California and Hawaii, gardening here was a new challenge. Never having studied horticulture or botany in college, I am self-taught and have a wealth of knowledge I am always willing to share.
Early on, I became a Master Gardener. Don Tapio (now-retired WSU Extension Educator in Grays Harbor County) was a wonderful mentor.
Over the years, my garden has been viewed by many for fundraising benefits and by friends and acquaintances. The joy I get is if someone can be inspired, if only from one little piece—or lots of pieces—of my garden.
Dolores Cavanah, Master Gardener since 1996, tells her story, starting from her childhood home in Hollywood, California, and continuing to her expansive garden on the Schafer Game Farm.