Gardening “in my small slice of paradise”

Pashalle Johnson in her lush garden.

Pashalle Johnson joined OSU Extension Master Gardeners of Benton County in 2017. She has a degree in Sustainable Horticulture from Oregon State University and works as a horticulturalist. Pashalle often volunteers at Master Gardener Plant Clinics where she welcomes all gardeners to learn something new. She shared her story (complete with delicious recipes) in August, 2019.

Tell us about your hometown.

I am from the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, an archipelago of some 700 plus islands and cays which lies 50 miles south of the Florida Keys.  The Bahamas is a small island nation with a population of around 370,000 citizens, most of whom live on the New Providence Island.  Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is located on New Providence and is home to  the majority of Bahamians, some 270,000 primarily because it is the economic centre of the country.  As a member of the Commonwealth of nations,  Queen Elizabeth II,  is recognized as monarch  and both our educational and governmental systems are based upon the United Kingdom’s.

My family and I moved from Portland so that I could complete a degree in sustainable horticulture and have remained.  While living in Portland I became immersed in community gardens, and garden volunteering. I volunteered with a number of  non-profit agro-businesses, like Growing Gardens, The Urban Farm Collective based in north east Portland works to both build community and reduce food insecurity in poor neighbourhoods; Produce for People which fights food insecurity by enlisting community gardeners to donate directly from their individual garden plots to  and Zenger Farms a teaching farm with summer camps,  urban farming instruction and programmes that introduce urban kids to life on a farm. 

What does being a Master Gardener volunteer mean to you?

 Becoming a certified  Master Gardener allows me to realize one of my values, community activism, which is built into the programme.  The title, Master Gardener, indicates that my knowledge and experience goes well beyond that of the  novice gardener and lets people know that I am passionate about gardening.  Being a volunteer allows me to interact with the public in a meaningful way; helping resolve gardening issues, to give advice that is backed by the research and science-based information provided by OSU Extension. 

 What’s a favorite garden memory—a sound, sensation, smell or taste associated with a favorite garden in your life?

Harvesting and shelling peas with friends on weekends at my grandmother’s home is a fond memory.  My sister and I spent weekends at our my  grandmother’s Ivy’s home.  Ivy’s home was a boisterous and lively place constantly abuzz with activity; her garden surrounded the house. Vining plants like Malabar spinach and Noni, vegetable beds, fruit trees; tamarind, plums, avocado and my aunt Nita’s prized roses.  Dinner preparation usually began with harvesting and shelling Pigeon peas.  Pigeon peas, Cajanus cajun, are a perennial legume, typically a shrub that grows to about six feet . Harvesting and shelling these are typically a job for children. As there were always many hands and lots of giggling, the time passed quickly.  Pigeon peas are a great source of protein and an important food crop in many African, latin American, Caribbean, Indian and Asian cultures. The peas are consumed both as a green (fresh) or dried. Peas and Rice is served as a side dish with both lunch and dinner.

Peas ‘n’ Rice

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil                                1/2 cup tomato paste

1 small onion, diced finely                                   3 slices thick bacon, diced

1/2 green bell pepper diced                                               1 stalk celery, diced

3 c water                                                                                      fresh ground black pepper to taste

3/4 cup cooked pigeon peas                                              2 cups uncooked white rice

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

 1.   In a Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels. Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings, set aside or discard the remaining.

2.    Add the onion, celery and green pepper to drippings; cook and stir over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes or until tender. Stir in the pigeon peas,  tomato paste, thyme, salt and pepper.

3.    Add the water,  and cooked bacon; bring to a boil. Stir in rice. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 45-50 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove thyme sprigs.

Tell us about your current garden

Currently, my garden, Camas Corner, (because of the beautiful clump of common camas that appeared my second year) is a 400 square foot perennial plot  in the Dunawi Creek Community Garden, part of the Bruce Starker Arts Park.  It is home to about 90 annual and perennial garden plots.  I have gardened here since 2013.  My garden style is that of the French potager or French kitchen garden which focuses on both beauty and production.  I grow vegetables, berries, herbs and flowers; the flowers adds splashes of colour but also attract beneficial insects to my garden which of course aids in good pollination. I practice a four-year crop rotation, intercropping and some successional gardening.  Because my space is small, gardening vertically allows me to grow much more food. This means I incorporate a fair number of vining plants and those vegetables that lend themselves to trellising.

Describe one plant that you grow which reminds you of home.

One of the greatest pleasures of my current garden has been successfully growing Bitter Melon (Momordia charantia). This vining plant, grows wild  in the Bahamas, similar to Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) found here in Oregon. It is a tropical and subtropical vining fruit grown from Africa, to Asian and the Caribbean. The leaves are served as a tea for curing the common cold or flu and are also cooked and eaten like spinach. The melon which grows to 6-8 inches, is eaten as a vegetable when immature and when fully mature becomes  sweet and changes from bright green to a beautiful bright orange-red that bursts open to expose  sweet red sticky gelatinous seeds. Served raw or prepared in desserts!

What’s a favorite garden memory—a sound, sensation, smell or taste associated with a favorite garden in your life?

The wonderfully pungent, spicy  scent of basil is something I look forward to each year.  Growing Basil, Ocimum basilicum, a member of the lamiaceae family, is one of the highlights of my summer garden, the delicious smell of pesto: pungent basil, toasted pine nuts or walnuts, drizzles of olive oil, fresh cracked pepper,  a few turns of salt and a little lemon makes me happy. I add basil in my dried herb mixture for grilling vegetables or meat on pasta and chicken.  I grow a bed of basil which provides enough to make a few gallons of pesto. My go to recipe appears in The Joy of Cooking:

Pesto from The Joy of Cooking

Enough for one pound of pasta

Process to a rough paste in a food processor:

    2 cups loosely packed basil leaves

    1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan

    1⁄3 cup pine nuts or walnuts, toasted

    2 medium garlic cloves, peeled

    With the machine running, slowly add:

    1⁄2 cup olive oil, or as needed

   Salt and pepper to taste

Use immediately or store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

  What’s one thing people might be surprised to know about you and/or your garden?  

One surprising thing about my community garden plot is the sheer number of flowers, vegetables, and herbs I grow in my small slice of paradise!  I love to experiment with new foods, new flavors and to learn new things!  I have tried to grow a little bit of everything.  You name it, I have most likely grown it at one time and each year I attempt to grow one new variety or new vegetable.  My 400 square foot plot has over the years provided me with a great abundance of produce: purple sweet potatoes, quinoa, okra, bitter melon, oca, gourds: basket and luffa, red corn ( this year), dwarf blue corn (last year), cucumbers, parsnips, four varieties of potatoes, five different varieties of winter squash, summer squash: zucchini and crookneck, snow peas, snap peas, eight different types of tomatoes, basil, watermelon, cantaloupe, raspberries: black, gold, red, blueberries, Marion berry, Aronia, Swiss chard, spinach and a beautiful new variety of red kale, two kinds of pole beans and peppers. Somehow I make room for flowers and herbs such as common camas, echinacea, shasta daisy, sunflowers, chocolate cosmos, cape fuchsia, black-eyed Susan, dahlia, marigolds, alyssum, carnations, bee balm and lemon verbena for tea, borage, salvia and purple sage and more.

You can help grow knowledge, gardens and communities. Applications for 2020 Volunteer Program open October 1st. Learn more and join us.

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