With two degrees in horticulture, a residential garden design certificate, and over 100 gardening articles published in magazines, Cristina da Silva has earned her reputation as a reliable source for gardening information. She has gardened for over 30 years and now maintains a blog showcasing her seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of gardening and, in particular, soil. Her popular weekly Twitter chat, #Groundchat, regularly draws crowds of gardeners eager to learn more about soil and its role in growing a healthy garden. As a gardener myself, I’ve enjoyed these always-informative chats, but I wanted to dig a little deeper (pardon the pun). So I was absolutely thrilled when Cristina agreed to a brief interview for my blog.
Fred: The “About Me” section on your blog mentions that you started gardening professionally about 30 years ago. Have you always been a gardener in your personal life? If not, where did your initial interest in gardening come from?
Cristina: Fred, I started gardening when I was 7 years old! Gardens, gardening, plants and garden design infuse all areas of my life, not just my professional life. And yes, I have my own garden.
Fred: You’ve written a lot on gardening, but you tend to focus on the importance of soil in gardening. You also created and regularly host #Groundchat on Twitter, a weekly “tweetup” about soil and soil-related topics. Could you tell me a little bit more about how and why soil has become your topic of choice?
Cristina: Over the years I’ve gained experience and knowledge in many aspects of horticulture, from gardening to molecular biology and everything in between. As you can imagine, I could write about almost anything. But, I found that many gardeners don’t talk/write much about soil, even though it is the heart of gardening.
At first, I started #groundchat as a way of filling this gap and giving back to the gardening community. What happened next is magical. #Groundchat ignited my passion for soil. And my professional life changed.
- My blog transformed from general gardening to raising awareness of soil’s role in gardening
- My Twitter followers and Facebook friends increased
- Requests for interviews, information and articles took off
- Invitations for presentations grew.
And it all started because I wanted to give back to the community. It has given back so much to me.
Fred: When speaking with other gardeners are there any soil misconceptions or mistakes that you run into again and again?
Cristina: That soil is boring and uninteresting! LOL!
And use sand to lighten clay soil!
Fred: You’re from Ontario, Canada. How would you describe your soil? Are there any particular challenges that face gardeners in your region?
Cristina: Ontario is an enormous province. It’s 2.5 times larger than California, which is also huge state. With that much area, there are a corresponding large number of soils. Seven out of the ten soil orders (Canadian Classification System) are found in Ontario. In American terms, six out of twelve soil orders from the American Soil Classification System are found in Ontario.
That being said, most gardeners in southern Ontario deal with clay soil. Many Torontonian gardeners living close to Lake Ontario garden on sandy soils.
In Northern Ontario gardeners either deal with boggy/peat soils or thin poor rocky soils.
Where I live, in Brampton, Ontario, the soil is predominantly clay. Brampton is famous for its brick factory: http://www.bramptonbrick.com. Clay soil has its challenges, but it is doable.
I’ve heard gardeners complain about the limitations of their soil, be it sandy or clay soil. Most gardeners usually complain about their soil. It really is no different from any other part of world. LOL!
Fred: What would be the one most important piece of gardening or soil-related advice you would give to a complete novice?
Cristina: Feed your soil, it will feed your plants.
Fred: Is there anything else you would like readers of this blog to know about you or your website?
Cristina: Knowing your soil and how to garden with that soil makes all the difference in the world. Healthy soil prevents over 80 percent of all pest and diseases. Healthy soil grows vigorous healthy plants, which are less susceptible to pests and diseases.
Cristina writes about gardening and soil at www.therealgardener.com; her blog is an incredible resource for amateur and experienced gardeners alike. You can also follow her on Twitter @CristinaGardens and join her every Friday at 2PM EST for #Groundchat, which is always as entertaining as it is enlightening.
Thank you again for generously giving your time to answer my questions, Cristina. Happy gardening to you, too!