Meet the gardeners: Cordelia Martinez & Steve Gross

As you walk into the garden from the gate at Anteater Drive you are likely to see a lady’s bicycle propped against the fence. Many of you will recognize the cyclist as Cordelia Martinez, proprietor of garden plots 51 & 52 Peony Lane. She and her husband Steve Gross joined AVCG in its former Arroyo Vista location over a decade ago, when their son Samuel was only three years old. As a veteran garden member, Cordelia kindly shared her family’s story with Meet the Gardeners editor Marie Connors. Look for Cordelia’s Gazpacho Recipe on our Favorite Recipes web page.

For me gardening is a necessity of life, and I’ve been fortunate to live in many places where I could garden: A small farm-sized one in New Jersey, front lawn raised beds and terra cotta pots in Texas, and a big backyard garden in Santa Ana when we first relocated to California. Steve is on the faculty at UCI, and when we moved to University Hills our house didn’t realoly have hte space or sunlight for a vegetable agarden; my toddler was already addicted to tomatoes off the vine, and we were new in town and wanted to meet the neighbors. Back then it was easy to get a plot, and we werre able to get started quickly.

My early AVCG gardens were very child-friendly. My friends and I took our kids over there in the afternoon and worked while they played. It’s wonderful to see that story play out over and over again as new families with little ones join the garden. Back then, we grew novel things, tried to grow pumpkins, tried to make cute little landscapes and did lots of trial-by-error learning. We grew potatoes all the time then, probably because they are easy and the kids enjoy digging them up so much.

Every year now we grow Swiss chard—red, pink, green, and yellow—because we all like it and it’s so reliable. The last couple of years we’ve grown Spanish Padron peppers; they’re like Japanese shishitos but more reliably mild in my experience. We always try to grow cucumbers; sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. In the winter we grow lettuce until it gets too hot for it. We experimented with berries and grapes, but anything that cuts down on tomato real estate goes.

Fortunately, we have a dehydrator, which comes in handy during especially abundant tomato seasons. When there are just too many tomatoes, like there were at the end of last year, we just pop them in freezer bags. We can tomatoes and pizza sauce in the summer, and use the more past type tomatoes in pa amb tomaquet (Catalan tomato and bread) constantly, but mostly, we drink gallons of gazpacho.

Pests like gophers and birds are discouraging, as is the occasional blight or bug infestation. Some years we do everything right, and pfft. Others, we forget this or that, and still things work out. Over the long haul, it’s a plus. Always. We plan to keep experimenting with new plants and new varieties. This year we moved some of the raised beds around to make room for fruit trees in pots. We have a Satsuma mandarin, and Australian finger lime, and an apple free. Wish us luck!

Cordelia Martinez and family