Rachel Swim spends 12-hour shifts in small operating rooms among beeping monitors in Clovis Community Medical Center, so during her days off, the labor and delivery nurse enjoys spending time in her backyard.
There, she is surrounded by 52 rose bushes, more than half a dozen fruit trees and countless flowers. Herbs are planted among the flowers and a separate vegetable garden offers fresh produce year-round.
“It’s about finding balance in life. We both work full-time, so this is our way of relaxing and finding our zen at home,” Swim said, noting that her husband, Mir Hosseini, is a pharmacist at the same hospital. “Every Friday is our date day and we’ll go out … but other times we work in the garden together. It’s our peaceful little retreat.”
Their sons, Rostam, 5, and Elisha, 8, enjoy taking the kitchen scraps to mix with soil as compost, pulling weeds, adding seeds to the bird feeders, sweeping, watering plants and digging holes.
Swim estimates she spends about three hours a week working in the garden.
“I just want to show that people with a busy life can still create a little retreat in their own backyards,” Swim said. “It’s more rewarding doing it yourself than having a gardener come in and maintain your garden. This is my creation, in a sense.”
She and her husband both inherited their love of gardening from their parents, Swim in San Diego and Hosseini in Iran.
“When my mom was alive, when I was younger, we bought a house that had all these vegetable beds. I saw her love for it, so I loved it,” Swim said. “And then my husband got it from his mother. In Iran everyone has a garden.”
Swim said she learned something from her mother-in-law during a visit to Iran a few years ago.
“I walked outside with her under the orange trees and she had all of her herbs all mixed up and she went in and grabbed everything — with the grass and weeds and everything,” Swim said, making a wide scooping motion with her arms in demonstration. “I was like ‘oh my gosh,’ because I go out there with my scissors and a bag. And then she took it inside, laid it out, picked out the herbs and swept away everything else. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you know?”
Most of the gardening taking place in her backyard is quite imperfect.
“If you throw out the seeds and just sprinkle them with some dirt on top, keep them moist, they will grow,” Swim said. “It’s no-fuss gardening. Throw your seeds out and things will pop up.”
Her vegetable garden houses lettuce, dill, cilantro, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, garlic, onions and more. The perimeter of the yard is lined with rose bushes and fruit trees like navel oranges, figs, pomegranates and plums.
Parsley and mint grows among the flowers — and flowers grow within the vegetable garden, too. Pansies and marigolds keep aphids away, Swim said.
The family enjoys eating the fruits, vegetables and herbs grown in their own backyard — and so do their friends and neighbors.
“A lot of my Indian friends will call me up and say, ‘can I have some of your mint? I’m making chutney,’ ” Swim said.
The summer brings cucumbers and tomatoes while lettuces are plentiful during winter, Swim said.
“Every month we’re harvesting something,” Swim said. “So many people think that it costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time to have an organic garden, but it doesn’t. And herbs are great because you don’t have to go out and spend $4 on a small bunch when you need something, you just go into your backyard.”
For beginners, Swim said, “You can’t go wrong with herbs and tomatoes.”
Rachel Swim offers the following tips for beginners who would like to start their own backyard gardening:
▪ Roses and zinnias do well in this climate. Start by planting those, and then progress to different plants.
▪ Cover the ground in between flowers and plants with wood chips to retain moisture.
▪ Surround a vegetable garden with chicken wire or poultry netting to keep squirrels and other critters from eating your produce.
▪ Plant pansies and marigolds with your vegetables to keep whiteflies and aphids away.
▪ If you see aphids, just handpick them off or use water instead of spraying chemicals.
▪ Set out bird feeders to try to deter them from eating the fruits and veggies.
▪ Ask for extra coffee grounds the next time you visit a coffee shop. “I put it in on the ground to enrich the soil and deter bugs. It also smells nice,” Swim said.