James Jackson This Garden is Me

There's no lawn, but there's a riot of color in front of James and Octavia Jackson's house. It's the only house in the neighborhood with no grass, and Octavia says people are forever calling to her from the street to say how nice it looks.

While she keeps an exacting eye on the flowerbeds in front, 82-year-old James supplies the vegetables grown from containers on a concrete patio in the back. Dark purple eggplants hang in extravagant bunches next to big, scarlet bell peppers. They aren't supposed to grow in Seattle, but here they are, thriving without pesticides in the orange sunlight of a Puget Sound autumn.

There are six-foot-tall tree collards along the patio fence. James and Octavia Jackson eat collard greens all year, along with their squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, garlic-all from pots on the small concrete patio.

Here in mid-September, he's setting out new starts of cabbage and broccoli, not in a greenhouse but here in the open, in the backyard. He expects to eat them in late December.

James is in frequent demand as a lecturer on container gardening. He proudly displays his credentials as a King County Master Gardener Emeritus, a title he earned after a long career in the military and another as a construction supervisor for the City of Seattle.

He exhorts in brief homilies as he works. "Soil does not wear out but you have to help it." He refreshes the soil in a container with small handfuls of compost and a smidgeon of fertilizer. "You can use it over and over. We wear out, but the soil does not."

"You have to fit the plant to the pot." He eyeballs a cabbage plant and chooses a squat, broadly rounded clay pot. "Place it just so the edges of the cabbage head will meet the edges of the pot. That way it won't fall over and break off before you're ready to eat it."

He uses only one tool: a well-worn triangular bricklayer's trowel that's as high tech as he needs to go. "It does everything I want it to," he explains. "It's just right for digging, for scraping, for moving soil from one place to another."

Getting around the garden with the aid of a walker, wielding his trowel from a portable garden seat, he maintains a personality as sunny as his patio.

"This garden is me," he chuckles. "This is what I am. I'm not here forever, but I'm not gonna be laid up in any bed. When I go, I'm gonna go from right here, in the garden. Yessir."

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