A Backyard Dream

Lorien Tersey turns seeds into seedlings—and produce for sale—in her Dreamflower Garden.

May 9, 2016

GleaningsIssue 18: May/June 2016

When I first went to visit Lorien Tersey’s Dreamflower Garden, I forgot to bring the house number. I knew which city block it was, though—Glenn just east of Aqua Vita—so I walked it. Once. Twice. I gave up.

That’s how well her house fits into the neighborhood.

It’s the backyard where Tersey’s full-time business grows both produce and potted seedlings for sale at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market on Thursdays at the Mercado San Agustín. She and her husband own just under an acre; they were lucky enough to buy a second small parcel adjacent to their lot (the seller tired of paying the taxes) so now Tersey’s microfarm takes up that piece as well as the original backyard.

Here rows of seedlings in pots wait to be transported to Thursday’s market, where she has a large, well-stocked booth. Collard greens, kale, and herbs grow from the ground, fed by drip irrigation. Tersey will sell these through the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s consignment table.

In her backyard garden, Lorien Tersey grows vegetable starts, herbs, and native plants to sell at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market.

In her backyard garden, Lorien Tersey grows vegetable starts, herbs, and native plants to sell at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market.

A soft-spoken blonde in her 40s, Tersey has been a gardener her whole life. “My mother started me out as soon as I could drop a seed into the ground,” she says. ”I’m a compulsive gardener.” Her large backyard begged to be cultivated. When the recession hit she decided to try turning the plants into cash. Seedlings, in their thin little pots, are especially thirsty, she says, so it helps a lot that the property is on a well. She doesn’t have to pay for water, only for electricity to run the pump.

Chickens, dogs, and rabbits animate the backyard scene too but aren’t part of the business, except to the extent that their noise alerts her to visitors. She has a lot of those.

“I actually love visitors,” she says. “The community aspect of this is, to me, the most important part.” People stop by for different reasons. One of the chicken coops belongs to a neighbor; the chickens pay rent in eggs. One little boy, who has been exposed to the garden since babyhood, comes every year to pick caterpillars off the fennel and raise them at home. When the butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, he brings them back to the garden.

“It’s important to grow ornamentals as well as food plants,” she says. “For the insects.” A red-flowering pomegranate and a pink sea of native penstemon grow in the front yard—adding beauty to the neighborhood, as well as those important pollinators.

Dropping by the gardens is just one way to participate in this microfarm community. Shopping at the Santa Cruz consignment table is another. (Usually her herbs are labeled Dreamflower, though she also consigns some unlabeled produce.) Or visit Tersey’s seedlings booth. She carries seasonal vegetable starts, native plants, and 50 kinds of baby herbs. If you’re not sure what to plant, or when or where, or even why, just ask the expert gardener who grew them.

Kay Sather lives in Tucson and farms her own urban back yard, writes about practical environmentalism, and builds with free-form adobe.

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