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Linda Looper’s: Life is Seasoned by the Fruits of Her Labor

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Sustainable living is not new to Linda Looper. From an early age, she watched her family grow fresh vegetables and fruits that went from their farm to the table. She found her green thumb through this country living, which spurred her goal of environmental awareness and the recent locavore, or eat locally grown food, trend.  

After living in the Bay area through the 1980s, her family moved to a small farm/ranchette near Clements. “We raised farm animals and were actively involved with the local 4-H program. We enjoyed planting a family garden and fruit tree orchard. The grapes were grown for wine or vinegar, raisins, dried fruit leather, jams or snacking right off the vine,” she mused. This country living grounded her soul and gave her a sense of pride when she enjoyed the fruits of her and her family’s labor from Mother Nature. 

The family also grew foods such as pumpkins, which were sold at 25 to 50 cents apiece to whomever could carry them away. Bee hives were also on their property to provide prolific pollination for the orchard and garden, as well as the donation of delicious honey, the only food that never expires. “My mother has always enjoyed gardening, which reflected the seasonal change of annuals, flowers and bulbs. The welcome surprise beauty, which was evident when they bloomed in the spring, showed her love of nature,” she smiled. “The many hours she spent in the gardens have been an inspiration to her tenacity of a garden never finished but always evolving, just like the person who tends it.”

Chickens Sharing Worms
About eight years ago, Linda became motivated to cocoon with some backyard farming boxes filled with edibles, including herbs, vegetables, potatoes, strawberries, asparagus, tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery and anything else in season. Her backyard chickens helped to organically fertilize the yard, as well as eat the scraps, cuttings and overripe produce. Their radar detected worms: one for the chicken, the other for the garden box. Both the worms and worm castings provided healthy soil conditioning with aeration, moisture retention, tunneling and nutrients. Linda invited a friend to see what she had done, and she solicited Linda to make some garden boxes–thinking inside the box–for her yard.  

“With more awareness of organic food, I continued to be busy making and installing kitchen and salad-bar garden boxes out of heart redwood, filled with a special blend of soil and organic seed and watching them grow. A few more friends were kind enough to allow me to demonstrate my project passion in their yards,” she noted. “One of those clients recently commented they were selling their house and downsizing, but will be taking the garden boxes with them to their new location.”

Love for Growing
Her business has continued to bloom through referrals and word-of-mouth praise from her customers. She is currently maintaining gardens or landscape for both residential and commercial clients. One of those clients is the iconic Pietro’s Trattoria, which she takes sincere pride in caring for. She found this job with her own gumption.

“One day, while driving past Pietro’s Trattoria, I noticed their outside vegetable gardens,” Linda related. “I stopped for a quick glance and introduced myself to the manager, who then arranged for a meeting with the owners so I could present my garden grooming skills. On May 7, 2015, I met with the owners and have been showing up regularly ever since. I use the fresh aroma of certain herbs along the garden path to the restaurant’s entrance, which gets their palate ready for mealtime. Customers always seem to enjoy the wonder and amazement of limes, tomato plants and sweet peas, which are espaliered on the garden boxes. 

“Many guests have used the signature template of the trellised boxes in their own home gardens. Basil in the courtyard helps to ward off flies during late summer. Mint and rosemary are picked for bar drinks. Keeping the vegetables and soil in good hygiene helps to prevent unwanted pests from nesting in the garden beds. Garlic chives in the center of the garden boxes proves helpful in deterring many pests as well. Zucchini is planted under the lemon tree orchard that surrounds the north and west parking lot. The male blossoms are used for pollinating the female blossom, the actual zucchini squash, and then picked for the kitchen. The zucchini is harvested at maturity. It has truly been my pleasure tending the gardens, greeting customers and harvesting crops for their kitchen.” 

Sharing Garden Wisdom
Annette Murdaca, owner of Pietro’s, enjoys everything about Linda and commented, “Linda has been a blessing to our team at Pietro’s. We call her our own personal garden fairy. She is always tending the garden at all hours, weeding, watering, planting, sweeping, leaf blowing, disease protecting, ladybug nesting. She treats our garden as if it were her own personal garden. She makes sure that it is meticulously kept, from the tomato plants to the cigarette butts that people leave on the pathways. We look good, because she makes certain all is well in the land of vegetables and herbs at Pietro’s. In addition, she reaches out to our customers and keeps them enlightened and informed on what each summer or winter garden plants are and their growth patterns. Many of our customers stop to talk with her and ask her advice on their home gardens. She has also been known to suggest certain Pietro’s dishes based on the garden planted at the time. And she does all this with a smile and much enthusiasm, as most garden fairies do!”

This excellent work prompted one of the customers from Pietro’s to approach her and inquire if she did weeds. To which she replied, “Of course,” and proceeded to follow her home and pick her weeds. She then told Linda she knew someone else who needed their weeds done, so they jumped into into her car and they headed to Klinker Brick Winery and Tasting Room.

“Upon arriving, I noticed a sandwich board near the entrance door that said, ‘NO Parking.’ I carefully picked it up and very politely asked the owners where the garbage can was. The next time I came, the owner asked what we were going to do that day. I very politely said, ‘You are going on a field trip to the local rock plant. I have already placed chalk smile faces on three large boulder rocks, which they will load onto your truck and then you need to come back.’” Linda smiled. “I said, ‘If we put those rocks near the entrance, do you think anyone will park in that area?’ I became enamored with the magnificent sunsets and will often manicure the landscape ’til after the sun goes down.”

Her New Alias
Steve Felton, owner and president of Klinker Brick Winery, has glowing words to say about her. “Linda, alias the Garden Fairy, not only keeps the landscape at the Klinker Brick Winery Tasting Room looking beautiful, always adding new flowers and plants, but has created inviting garden areas for our patrons and wine club members to sip our wines, relax and watch the magnificent sunsets from our courtyard. Linda is also a wonderful ambassador for the winery, greeting guests from all over the world as they visit the tasting room, taking them on short tours, talking about the gardens, different flowers and trees, and the signature Old Vine Sculpture created by local artist Roland Cheney, in our courtyard. Klinker Brick would not be the same without the Garden Fairy.”

Since the inception of her gardening business, she has evolved to become whatever works for her clients. It is their wishes, dreams and desires she follows, offering suggestions as needed. As a University of California Cooperative Extension Qualified Green Gardener, the basics of soil, irrigation, pH, sun exposure, right plant right place, integrated pest management, watering and fertilization are only the beginning. “Every situation poses a unique circumstance that requires careful consideration for an appropriate resolution.”

The Word about Dirt
Linda is the proud Gramma to four grandchildren, each with their own personality. Together, they have adopted ladybugs, hummingbirds, butterflies and worms, which are beneficial to their gardening experience.

“Their parents have had to realize that ‘dirt happens’ when they are hanging around with Gramma. Children see things from a different perspective than adults, so I always ask their opinion and then listen,” she related. “Once while helping Gramma at Klinker Brick, my ten-year-old grandson inquired, ‘The winery name does not appear anywhere in the main entrance.’ So, we called the owner over to validate his discovery and he asked, ‘Is there any chance the name could be engraved on a bench, so that when my Gramma (the Camera Nazi) volunteers to capture Kodak moments with guests’ camera phones, at least the tourists can sit while she takes all the poses?’” 

Another grandchild secretly planted tulip and daffodil bulbs around the entire landscape, which surprised everyone as they popped up that next spring. They have all assisted in watering, weeding, planting and replanting, or sometimes just entertaining the animals on the property.  Hundreds of ladybugs have been turned loose at night to crawl over each grandchild before taking off to feast on any resident pests.

Her business is called Pill Box Gardener, meaning “my pill box is a garden.” The best medicine is the nutritional value of homemade versus pre-packaged. “So, eat your way to better health from your own yard!” she related. She is inspired daily as her mission statement has become “Sharing my enthusiasm of growing organically, eating healthy and living sustainably.” 

To other women wishing to follow their own dreams, Linda said, “There will always be hiccups in life. I accept each challenge with gusto and consider it a learning opportunity. As I grow in my business, so does my experience.”

To reach Linda Looper for garden~coaching, email her at gg.gardengirl@att.net.