Profile: Roland was born in Ireland in 1951, and is currently CEO of Soil Health Solutions. He trained as a psychologist in the UK and has a psychotherapy practice in Boulder Colorado, where he also teaches and writes. Roland cultivates a garden at 7,400 feet altitude in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
What is your first memory of gardening?
My father was helping my brother John and I sow pansy seed near the kitchen garden at Ffrwdgrech, the same patch he cultivated as a child. I was about 5 or 6 years old and we each had a small plot to grow flowers and radishes.
Why do you garden now?
It is a compulsion. Each year, I dread starting the garden afresh but I always do it. In fact, the garden keeps getting bigger, even though the soil and environment is extremely unforgiving. When the deer eat all the broccoli for the fourth year running, or the rabbits mow down the pea shoots or another sapling dies from leaf burn, I swear I will give up. Then I grow more! We eat our vegetables throughout the year, and they taste great. I hate to buy organic vegetables in the store as they are tasteless and I know they have terrible nutritional value. I believe it is essential for our family’s health to grow our own veggies. I need to get outside, especially in the summer. Gardening is a great balance to working in an office or on a computer.
What is your favorite part of gardening?
I like preparing the soil and planting the seeds. Looking after the plants is satisfying but can be somewhat tedious. I am not that interested in harvesting. By the end of summer, I start planting again for my winter crops. I like pruning and have a good feel for it, but at our altitude, I don’t have much to work with. I have built a couple of cheap greenhouses out of electrical conduit and horticultural plastic. They are extremely efficient and I love that I can grow year round using only passive solar heating and row covers. I enjoy brewing the Bountea and trying our different products; they work so well.
What do you hate about gardening?
I am always losing my tools and spending time looking for them! The fox has a habit of stealing any leather gloves I leave outside. Naturally, it only takes right hand gloves so I have a shelf full of left hand ones. I love animals, but I get mad when the deer or rabbits devastate my plants. The bear that comes round regularly has destroyed my compost bins a few times but I forgive him; he helps turn over the pile. Watering has been an ongoing problem, as we live in high desert. I like to conserve water from our well so I designed a gray water system that seems to have solved most or my moisture problems â€“ that and lots of mulching.
What are you favorite types or varieties of plants?
I am most interested in vegetables, especially beans, greens, and tomatoes. I like finding those varieties that do well in this environment. I have always loved spring bulbs and have lots of daffodils, Narcissi, and tulips for early spring. The deer can be persuaded not to eat the tulips with Irish Spring soap or a homemade spray of garlic, eggs, and hot pepper. I love the few deciduous trees I can help survive up here and keep trying others but they grow very slowly or not at all. I recently had to cut down two beautiful Aspens that I planted 15 tears ago. Their roots had taken over the vegetable garden, stealing all the moisture and nutrients. My perennial borders try to replicate the English country style I remember from my childhood â€“ hollyhocks, sunflowers, red-hot pokers, geraniums, and salvias. Many other flowers are just not possible and I miss them.
What are you really good at in the garden?
Vegetable growing, revitalizing the soil, creating ways to help plants grow in this environment. I build all weather covers for my plants out of plastic covered PVC pipe, which protect them from the late frosts and snow. It has taken me over ten years to understand this ecosystem and I am still finding ways to help it grow what I like.
What are you still learning?
I still feel like a beginner gardener compared to others in my family. I am learning about early seed propagation to overcome our short season. I would like to learn more about propagating from cuttings. Rose growing intimidates meÃ¢â‚¬â€they are a bit fussy for me though I have some of the very hardy ones growing now. Gardening is a never-ending exploration or new territory.
What is your overall gardening philosophy?
I believe gardens are reflections of psychological health. Humans have lived immersed in nature for the vast majority of our history; we have to get outside and get dirty. To garden, you have to keep a balance between the natural ecology of the place and the intention of the gardener. Work with nature but don’t give in to it completely. Like life, see what is possible and then stretch it a little. I believe totally in an organic natural approach to gardening, but I am also very pragmatic. I am not in favor of plastics and our over-dependence on oil, but I do like poly coverings on my greenhouses!
What is your personal approach to gardening?
Unlike my sister Veronica, I steel myself to pull up weeds and cut back overgrown plants, but I like a slightly wild look to perennial beds. My vegetables are pretty organized in rows and raised beds because of the need to irrigate. I compost everything, including the things I have been told not to: meat, bones, shells, milk, etc. I believe in the power of the microbe to transform anything.
What do you gain from gardening?
The impulse to garden comes from deep inside. I am constantly being taught the necessity for patience, watching nature unfold in time. Gardens take at least ten years in the making, so be prepared for the long haul. It is essential that I get my hands in the earth; it is real.