JOSH STEPHENSON/Herald photos
JOSH STEPHENSON/Herald photos
Vegetable gardening in and around Durango is no cake walk.
The growing season is short. Precipitation is unreliable (and sometimes falls in the plant-pummeling form of hail). The soil is mostly clay and rock. Wildlife large and small are eager to devour the harvest.
But when all obstacles are overcome, the taste of success is so, so sweet.
That was the take-away message of the fourth annual Tour de Farm, a bike tour of local gardens and farms that took place Sunday.
The tour included a 5-mile, in-town route and a 30-mile route that went up the fertile Animas Valley.
Sunday morning, my husband and I buckled our two small children in a bike trailer not long after daybreak looking for ideas and inspiration from the tour (the short one – there’s only so much you can ask of a 2- and 4-year-old).
We were not disappointed.
These were the backyard gardens we visited:
b The Alamo Drive home of LeeAnn Vallejos and Mark Rosenberg, where a community garden that serves three families has replaced grass.
b The 37th Street home of Maria’s Bookshop owners Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio, whose garden meanders amoeba-like around their house and dead-wends at a chicken coop.
b The West Third Avenue house of Lynn Coburn and Merle Harrison.
b And the downtown abode of Mayor Michael Rendon and wife, Minna Jain, where just about everything in sight is edible.
Though every arrangement was beautiful, inspirational and a feat of ingenuity, the one with the most interesting backstory was Coburn’s hillside oasis.
She said she and Harrison were only the second owners of the home, which was built in 1888. The house previously belonged to the Kroegers, of hardware-store fame.
Coburn said she started gardening at the home soon after moving there in the early 1970s. She learned the art of fostering healthy soil and nurturing delicate seedlings from her mother-in-law, Henrietta Harrison, who died in 2004 at the age of 94.
Harrison was born in 1909 in Kline, the seventh of 13 children of a pioneer family, according to her obituary.
“In the summers, she raised a huge garden, and her family remembers battles with weeds, raccoons and prairie dogs,” the obituary reads.
The backyard of Coburn’s West Third house slopes up sharply, so the countless buckets of compost and manure that have gone on her garden over the decades had to be hauled up the hillside by her.
“I’ve bitten off a little more than I can probably handle,” she said.
That must be how Coburn stays so svelte with so much bounty in reach. As the 50 or so riders on the short tour wound through the plot, we were surrounded by a jungle of corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, greens and flowers.
There were also a few of what some might call weeds but she calls “volunteers.”
Before sending the group on its way, Coburn passed out bags of “Briggs beans.”
She explained that these were a variety of pole bean that were bequeathed on her by her mother-in-law and had been grown successively in the area for 120 years.
“Those bean seeds have a long history in La Plata County,” she said.
Unfortunately, she sheepishly admitted, she’s not a fan of their flavor so she encouraged everyone to take a bag to share around the responsibility of ensuring their survival.
I took a bag and plan to do right by Henrietta’s beans to the fullest extent of my amateur gardening abilities.
The tour ended at the Smiley Building, where we were treated to lunch by Zia Taqueria and beer and root beer by Carver Brewing Co.
There, I caught up with Darcy Craig, an organizer of the tour who oversaw selection of the stops. She was equally taken with Coburn’s gardening heritage when she visited during the selection process.
“I was like, ‘Oh, you’re definitely on the tour,’” Craig said.
Next year, organizers will feature a whole new batch of gardens, she said.
Fifty people participated in both long and short tours. Craig said they may seek a permit for more participants because of the Tour de Farm’s popularity.
“Every year it fills up,” Craig said.
My guess is we’ll be back for another year – if we’re not too busy in the garden.