When I was about 10, working in my father’s bountiful vegetable garden, I stopped my hoeing (getting rid of weeds was my job), looked up at my dad, and said: “When I grow up, I will never, ever walk into a vegetable garden again.”

He laughed, and. looking down at me, said, “Never say never, son.” How right he was. Years passed. and I had totally forgotten my words and my father’s response, until that one day…

It was a warm February afternoon and the earth smelled fresh and new. I was sitting on the back porch looking at a seed catalog that had somehow made its way into my mailbox.  The next thing I knew, I was in the back yard, digging up a square patch of ground.

A trip to the local feed store provided me with vegetable seeds and a variety of flower seeds, dreaming of fresh, homegrown edibles and a gorgeous yard.

I was told once that one has to kill at least a thousand plants in order to become a gardener. I confess that I have exceeded that thousand tenfold, and still consider myself an apprentice.

Originally from south Louisiana, I  have learned a lot from the many great gardeners there. When living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I became a master gardener, and actually grew vegetables and beautiful landscape plants in the high desert there. While there, I also wrote many articles on high desert gardening. When we moved to the Houston area in 2006, I became a master gardener in Texas.

Not only did I learn about gardening principles, but the master gardener program also allowed me to take advanced certifications in rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, turfgrass, and plant propagation, among others. I speak to many groups every year on these and other topics.

That’s when it became clear that the climate, soil and growing conditions are so similar throughout the upper Gulf Coast.

There are around 12 million people living in this region (USDA Cold Hardiness Zones 8b and 9a). If the region were one state, it would have the fifth largest population in the nation.

Estimates are that about one-tenth of the population (about 1.2 million people)  actively participate in gardening. And conservative estimates indicate that gardeners spend about $600 per capita per year on gardening supplies. That’s $720,000,000 annually, which is more than a drop in the bucket.

(Bob Dailey is available for presentations to gardening and soil conservation groups throughout the Gulf Coast.

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