Building a Pandemic Garden with Wasatch Community Gardens

Amy and Glenn McMinn in their ingenious tomato tunnel. KUED All Rights Reserved.

Amy and Glenn McMinn in their ingenious tomato tunnel.

By Lizzi Brosseau

We are thrilled to be partnering this year with Wasatch Community Gardens on a virtual version of their Urban Garden and Farm Tour. In this special series of videos, we’ll be showcasing some creative, experimental and downright beautiful urban gardens and farms in the Salt Lake City community. Come with us, as we take a virtual peek over the fence into our neighbors’ backyards!

Virtual Tour of a Pandemic Garden

The first feature in our virtual version of the 2020 Urban Garden and Farm Tour starts with Amy and Glenn McMinn, who have spent the quarantine undertaking what’s becoming popularly called a “pandemic garden.” We explore some of the ingenious features of Amy and Glenn’s pandemic garden—from interplanting ornamentals with edibles, to using materials on hand to create a tomato trellis shaped like a Calistoga wagon.

For the special virtual version of this year’s Urban Garden and Farm Tour, we took our cameras with Marybeth to visit Amy and Glenn’s backyard in person (with masks and social distancing). Check out the video below to snoop into their backyard with us!  


Video: Amy and Glenn McMinn's Garden Tour


Amy and Glenn's History with Wasatch Community Gardens

Glenn and Amy moved into their Salt Lake City home about 18 years ago, and initially had only one garden plot in the backyard. Eventually they put in a larger garden, and after retiring, Amy began taking more gardening classes from WCG. She says that taking classes through WCG has been very helpful in the process of expanding her and Glenn’s garden. Not only have the classes increased her gardening knowledge, but it’s also given Amy a great personal resource for gardening information in the person of Marybeth Janerich, the Community Education Director for WCG.
 

Amy first became affiliated with Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG) through mentoring a refugee family and helping them start a garden with WCG at what was once called the “Portable People’s Garden”. This great program helped refugees learn English and grow their own food. Amy then started taking classes from WCG, and discovered her “inner garden geek.” She is now a member of the WCG board. Glenn volunteers, and participated in their most recent capital campaign to expand their 8th South Grateful Tomato Garden into the new WCG campus, which will allow them to better serve the community and empower people to grow local, healthy, organic food. 

Glenn and Amy McMinn, featured gardeners on this year's Urban Garden and Farm Tour

The 6 Garden Zones of Amy and Glenn's Backyard

Over time, Amy and Glenn’s backyard has developed into different planting and garden zones. Based off considerations like sun exposure, existing trees and structures, as well as time and money, Amy and Glenn have developed their backyard into an area where they can grow and harvest enough food for eating year round, all while enjoying a beautiful ornamental landscape. We’ll share with you some of the many features of their garden zones, and the gardening practices that make the most of them! 

 

Pollinator attracting flowers planted above Amy's shaded in-ground garden bed.

1. Pollinator garden

The McMinn's pollinator garden is situated on sloped areas that have been terraced into growing space. They've focused on planting drought tolerant plants that attract bees and other pollinators and beneficial insects in the upper part of the zone. The lower portion of the zone is an in-ground bed, which gets enough shade in the early and late parts of the summer season that they can grow shade loving crops later and earlier than usual. 

 

A view of beds made from pecky cedar in Amy and Glenn's pandemic garden.

2. Pandemic Garden 

A "pandemic garden" is a phrase that gardeners have started using to describe more ambitious gardening projects that they wouldn't normally undertake without all the free-time quarantine has afforded us. Amy and Glenn took on one such project this year, by removing about a quarter of their sod, (which they were able to give to friends who needed it) and put in three garden boxes made with beautiful pecky cedar. This pandemic garden features creative use of vertical gardening along the border fence boxes, flowers to attract pollinators, and many varieties of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, and more. Amy also ingeniously created shade structures with plastic pipes and old curtains that can be easily slid over the bent pipes to provide needed shade during Utah's hot summers. 

 

The tomato tunnel in Amy and Glenn's pandemic garden.

3. DIY Tomato Trellis

Another incredibly smart addition to Amy and Glenn's backyard this year is their tomato tunnel. They needed something to support their indeterminate tomatoes, so Glenn found a design that looked like a great solution. Using sprinkler pipes they had on hand, Glenn began creating vertical hoops that create a tunnel over the pathway between garden beds. He then drilled cedar planks into the pipes horizontally along the sprinkler pipes, building a “calistoga wagon” structure. Strings are woven between the sprinkler pipes and cedar planks to allow the tomato vines to have something to grow up. Amy uses tomato clips to encourage their growth up the strings.

Veggies grow on both sides of the tunnel, with the tallest indeterminate varieties closest to the tunnel so they can grow up and over. Shorter crops and dwarf tomatoes are grown in front -taller crops in back- so that every plant is getting the sun that it needs. Amy has also interplanted spinach and other goodies with the tomatoes. Marybeth says this is an excellent example of vertical gardening. 

The design allows for the tomatoes to grow all the way up and over the tunnel, with some of the taller plants overlapping. The hope is that this will create a giant green tunnel with tomatoes growing overhead that can be easily harvested, like apples or grapes. A bonus? The structure made it easy for them to cover their tomatoes during our unusual cold snaps this June. 

 

Tall metal garden boxes used to grow strawberries, marigolds and other ornamentals.
 

4. Metal Garden Boxes For Growing (and Hiding)

Amy and Glenn's back yard originally had a lot of pine trees, which they were happy to remove after property damage from a fallen pine tree in one of their previous homes. After chopping down the pine trees on the west side of their yard, they discovered they couldn’t get a stump grinder in the property to remove the stumps. Always looking for a solution, they built tall metal garden boxes, filling them in with dirt to cover the stumps. These garden boxes are now growing ornamental plants and edibles, like potatoes and strawberries.

Amy mentioned that she had never grown potatoes before, and said she is surprised and delighted by how beautiful they are. Amy thinks that in general, vegetables are very pretty looking, and Glenn, who loves ornamentals, is starting to see what she means!

 

Amy and Glenn's squash mound, with a side of arugula.

5. From Salad Garden to Squash Mound

This zone is small, but mighty. It first started with lettuce and spinach earlier this year. As temperatures rose, Amy replaced her shade loving salad greens and started planting melons and squash, creating an impressive squash mound on the west side of their house!

 

Garden boxes on Amy and Glenn's patio, filled with their favorite herbs.

6. A Peaceful Patio for Herb Boxes

The final zone in Amy and Glenn's backyard is their patio garden containers, filled with herbs that they use often in their cooking. This arrangement keeps the herbs close at hand, which is helpful for incorporating them into sauces, salsas, relishes, curries, pickling mixes and cocktails. 

 

Amy working with her cucumbers, securing vines on wire.

Start a Pandemic Garden of Your Own

We hope this video and blog post will inspire you to try your hand at gardening if you haven't before. And, if you're a seasoned gardener looking for a new challenge, maybe quarantine is a great opportunity to start planning and building a DIY pandemic garden of your own!

Don’t forget to follow Modern Gardener on Instagram and Facebook to see more information about gardening, and chime in with your own tips or stories!

If you live in Utah and have a garden or garden project that you'd like to be featured on Modern Gardener, click here!

Lizzi Brosseau

Lizzi Brosseau, Digital Producer at KUED Channel 7.
Modern Gardener Host and Author

Lizzi works for PBS Utah as a digital producer and host of Modern Gardener. Read more