For this post we interviewed Carolyn Candela, who is the new Community Garden Specialist at Pathways In Education. When she was younger, Carolyn did a bit of gardening with her father—mostly planting flowers, tomatoes, and different herbs. But it wasn’t until seven years ago, when she started volunteering at a school garden, that she discovered her love of gardening. Shortly after, Carolyn got her Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management with a focus on Environmental Sustainability.
We picked her brain to learn how gardening changed her life and key tips for growing a beautiful garden!
Q: What’s the most exciting aspect of gardening for you?
A: Definitely watching my plants grow over time. After planting seeds or starts, it’s very satisfying to watch your plants grow into vegetables that are ready for harvest.
Q: What do you like most about gardening?
A: I love being outside and getting my hands in the dirt!
Q: What is the biggest mistake people often make with gardening?
A: I think that it’s very easy to make mistakes when watering plants – either by watering
them too much or too little, or at the wrong time of day. I learned this the hard way when
I overwatered a potted lavender plant and ended up killing it. It’s always important to read up on a plant’s needs as far as water and sunlight go before putting them in the ground or in a pot.
Q: What’s your #1 tip for gardening?
A: Always be aware of climate, because there are different growing seasons and plants have different needs. Here in Southern California we need to water our plants more frequently since it doesn’t rain much. It always helps to do research on your climate before you start your planting!
Q: What if you’re on a tight budget or have a tiny apartment?
A: A big reason why I’m very excited about the work that I’m doing is because I want to demonstrate to students that they can grow food in urban environments, regardless of space or financial limitations. I think that we’re often only as limited as we allow ourselves to be- it’s easy for us to think that we can’t do something until somebody comes along and shows us how. For me, it was working in the school gardens that showed me how to utilize small spaces and recycled materials to grow food.
Why Gardening is Worth Your Time
Q: How has gardening changed your life?
A: It has shown me that I can grow my own food and be self-reliant. There is really nothing more satisfying than cooking with vegetables that you’ve grown yourself. We live in a time of instant gratification, where people live in the future instead of the present and expect immediate results. Gardening has taught me how to be present and mindful- it’s almost like a form of meditation, really. It’s something that takes me out of my daily routine and allows me to really connect with my surroundings and feel in-tune with the natural world.
Q: What’s the best recipe you made with food from your own garden?
A: My favorite recipe that I’ve made from my own garden has to be pesto sauce. It’s so easy to make, and a lot of times I like to add different greens into the mix, like spinach or kale.
Q: Does it feel different to eat food that you’ve grown yourself?
A: It feels great to eat food that I’ve grown myself! For one, it just tastes better (I’m not sure if this is because it’s so fresh, or because I know that I grew it). I also really like knowing where it came from, and that no chemicals were used on it.
Q: Do you have any funny stories from working in the garden?
A: I always like to encourage students to try new vegetables that we’re growing- sometimes they like them, and sometimes they really don’t! Their reactions can be priceless. Once when we were growing mustard greens in one of our school gardens, I encouraged students to try them, but gave a disclaimer that they can be very spicy. This one student decided to make a “burrito” using a mustard green like a tortilla, and he was in for quite a surprise!
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: One of the things that I really like about gardening is that there is always something to be learned. With every plant I grow, I end up learning a new lesson, and I really appreciate that.
It’s evident that there are many benefits of gardening, whether you want to connect with nature, eat healthier, or are just looking start a new hobby. A tight budget or a small space do not need to be limiting!
Carolyn Candela is employed by Pathways In Education, which partners with Opportunities For Learning Charter Schools.