introduce myself. I'm Barbara Rittiman, originally from Staten Island,
N.Y. My first marriage was to a career soldier. We traveled a great
deal and during these travels managed to have six children. We divorced
after 16 years and I settled in Northern California with the kids.
I married Dennis and for the first time since I was a child, had
a backyard of my own.
At first, the yard was
just a place to store kids' bikes and the dead Christmas tree (until
at least March or April). In those days, it was enough to get to
work and back, and hold off those mountains of laundry and roomsful
of housework. Notice I didn't say 'conquer' or 'control' or 'manage.'
Holding off was the best we could do. And we did. Eventually, the
kids grew up. They moved out. We cleaned the house and got rid of
that tree. They moved back. And this time, they had their kids with
We needed more room.
Since we live in a townhouse in a managed community, building onto
the house was not an option. The only area we had that had not been
maximized long ago was the yard. Sadly, we couldn't use it as bedroom
space but we certainly could use it as another room as long as the
weather held up. Since we live at the lower end of San Francisco
Bay, we enjoy lovely weather most of the time.
Compared to the rest
of the country, our yard is very small (30' x 60'). We had dabbled
in the yard over the years. At first, it was, shall we say, 'natural.'
Eventually we got ahead of the weeds, put in some foundation plantings
and some grass. Oh yes, and late one summer Sunday night, holding
a plumb line and a trouble light for the bricklayer, I helped my
husband Dennis, the aformentioned bricklayer, put in a brick walkway
from the gate to the cement pad outside the Dining Room door. We
had imposed structure. We rested on that laurel for years.
I have always been interested
in plants. As an ex-military wife, my experience had been with houseplants
and those outdoor plants that I could coax into living indoors.
As often as we moved, it didn't make sense to invest too much effort
and money in the ground just to leave it behind. So at least I had
an understanding of the basics of light, water and nutrients in
As we spent more time
in the yard, we began to seriously garden as a way to decorate this
outdoor room of ours. We started with the easy stuff and I fell
in love with the cheap glory of flowering annuals. (I'm still a
sucker for a flat of Lobelia.) I also began to accumulate gardening
books. (We had no idea what we were getting us into!)
As I researched what
was possible and why a particular planting had failed or flourished,
I became familiar with the possibilities of plants and began to
research the plants themselves. I began to accumulate herb books.
And to read them. And to try out some of the plants we could raise.
I experimented with propagation, maintenance, harvest and storage.
I'm still experimenting. I'm still learning and do not consider
myself an expert of any stripe. The more time I spend in research
and in the actual gardening, the more I realize that what we favor
and grow today are, for the most part, the newly-beautified versions
of plants that our ancestors grew or gathered more for their medicinal
properties than their beauty.