India Tornell Aliya Hall/The Chronicle
Every plant in India Tornell’s garden tells a story. At a wedding she attended, they threw seeds instead of rice, and she planted them. Another clipping came from a neighbor from whom she bought raw milk, and her Wisteria cutting came from her daughter’s wedding.
”There’s an unspoken rule: You got it somewhere,” she said, explaining the culture of asking other gardeners to save seeds or take cuttings.
Tornell has been gardening for ”forever,” she said. She remembers, as a child, planting near her sandbox. Now, she grows a wide variety of both flowers and vegetables, as well as fruit trees.
”I’m drawn to watching things grow,” she said. ”It’s something you’re born with.”
Beyond an array of flowers including dahlias, wildflowers, sunflowers and more, Tornell also grows tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini, blueberries, rhubarb and cucumber; tomatoes are her favorite.
”Tomatoes are huge because of the distinctness in flavor,” she explained. ”You endure store-bought all winter long and then these come out.”
Tornell has two things she always emphasizes to aspiring gardeners: ”You don’t have to do this; this isn’t a standard,” she said. ”This is something I enjoy. I don’t want people doing this who have families. They come first and they’re gone.”
She explained that when she had children, the yard and garden didn’t look the way it does now, and it’s important to spend that time doing activities as a family. Now that her grandchildren are older, she has more time to dedicate to the hobby.
Gardening isn’t as popular as it used to be, and Tornell said that’s because there’s so much more to do now – but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; especially since there has been more of a push to get people outside to increase their serotonin levels.
”I didn’t know that, but I knew I needed to get the heck out into the garden,” she said. ”I (also) can’t stand gyms, so I get a lot of exercise pushing things around and bending over. I get to be outside and create something; it’s all good.”
Like most gardeners, pests are the biggest challenge; however, the pests have changed over the years. It used to be moles and gophers, but now deer have become a bigger issue. To combat the animals, she planted dahlias on the outskirts of the garden and enclosed the area with hot wires. She has even made a special spray of egg, milk, cinnamon and garlic that she will spray on the garden; however, she said it smells awful and is more labor intensive.
Another unexpected challenge is the tendency to personify the plants.
”These become your children and you’re always feeling like, ‘Oh, there’s a weed.’ You feel drawn to take care of them all the time,” she said. ”And you think, ‘Am I crazy? I’ve got to get out of here!’”
To Tornell, gardening is another form of art. She recalled having a conversation with a family member when they were looking at her old paintings. She told the person that she stopped painting because she couldn’t stand to be inside, and her family member told her, ”No, you found a new palette.”
”I never thought about it that way,” she said. ”I took out a bush (and) it’s a new palette – new soil to plant something in.