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Former parking area is now a thriving garden

Colfax resident Myrtle Findley wanted level space with lots of sun
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Longtime gardener Myrtle Findley’s hillside landscape has great views of Colfax. And that means a lot of climbing to tend to plants and trees. The bounty of greenery also creates lots of shade. “I have so much planted in my yard, if I wanted vegetables, I have to put them here and there,” Findley said. But when she turned 90 last year, she decided she was ready for a change. So, for this spring’s plantings, she created a flat space to grow her vegetables, installing a tape-drip irrigation system and a trellis for her green beans. “It gets a full six hours a day of sunlight,” she said. The transformation called for rearranging some of the many keystone blocks she has on the property and creating an oblong planting space from what was previously an arced parking area. Then she topped it with four-and-a-half yards of soil that she combined with her own special fertilizer preparation. “I call it ‘Myrtle’s mix,’” she said. It’s soil, mushroom compost and sand, in a combination that suits her property’s growing needs precisely. “You just feel it,” she said about creating the correct ratio.” Findley, who calls herself a farmer and a gambler, already had the first sprouts in place by mid-April. She used cutout plastic containers to protect the young seedlings from the late snowfall. They’re also swathed in a blanket of rice straw, which will keep in the moisture when summer’s heat arrives, she said . The rice straw is preferable to hay because it deters weeds. On the down side, it doesn’t decompose, “so you have to clean it out at the end of the growing season,” she said. By then, expect to have some mildew and mold. But that won’t be a problem for the vegetables, she assured. Shredded cedar mulch and even newspaper work well to keep out weeds and keep in moisture, according to Denise Furgeson, landscape designer and sales associate at Eisley Nursery in Auburn. The cedar is great for flowers and ornamentals, while the newspaper works best for vegetable gardens. “Newspaper is an organic way to do it,” Furgeson said. After you put it down, be sure to anchor it with dirt or stones. Furgeson also recommends installing a drip-irrigation system. “It really helps control the weeds because you’re not watering the whole surface of the soil,” she said. Findley, an icon of gardening, has served as president of the Colfax Garden Club and was district director. She currently is parliamentarian for the district and state chairwoman for gardening consultants with California Garden Clubs. As a garden and landscape consultant, she frequently attends symposiums. That keeps her up-to-date on the latest gardening trends. The latest theme is home grown. “It’s getting people to plant in the yard and eat vegetables grown near their home, going to farmers’ markets — eating grown food in the soil where you live,” she said. Findley and her late husband, a Methodist minister, moved to Colfax in 1975. “It’s such a good altitude, we built a home to retire here,” she said. The landscape has several levels, terraced with keystone blocks. There’s a third of an acre for Findley to take full advantage of her green thumb. “I have more than 100 roses,” she said. “I have a cherry tree that gives me cherries every year. I have a Meyer lemon tree.” Then there are the stonefruit trees. “I love the stonefruit peaches,” she said. “Some years we have them, but other years not as much.” And that’s just the beginning. “If it grows at this altitude, I’ll plant it,” she said. That includes her vegetable garden’s carrots, beets, beans, squash, eggplant, sugar snap peas and other edibles.