In The Garden With KokHeong: Oct. 23


I grew up in tropical Malaysia where the climate is, as our saying goes, “年年是夏, 一雨成秋.” Literally, it means, “Every year is Summer, one rain transforms into Autumn.” As you can imagine, we were able to grow food all year round. 

Growing food here in the arid mountain-desert climate is a challenge. It takes a lot of work and patience, but it is worth it if you have the space, the time, and the inclination. 

I’ve been growing food since the age of 8 when my family moved from an urban setting to a suburban one where we had a bit of land surrounding our house. We had a food forest with tropical fruit trees (rambutans, star fruits, jackfruits, guavas, papayas, and bananas) and lots of vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, okras, beans, peas, bitter melons, gourds, peanuts, and many varieties of Asian root vegetables and greens) while raising chickens, ducks, bunnies, and guinea pigs. Everywhere I have lived, which included London, Davis (California), and Los Alamos, I have grown some food, even when my husband and I were students in London and we were living in a small attic apartment. But there was a window! We grew herbs and sprouts in a window box. 

When we bought our first home in 1979 here in Los Alamos, we chose a location in the Eastern Area, within walking distance to all the downtown facilities. Our modest house sits on less than an eight of an acre of land, which was mostly lawn, with some juniper shrubs next to the house in front, and honeysuckle shrubs along the fence in back. Gradually, we added fruit trees, one tree at a time. We dug out the lawn a small section at a time and planted an ever-expending vegetable garden. We added raised beds, and later, containers to keep in the water that would have otherwise been sucked up by neighboring Siberian Elms. Today, it’s a food jungle!

My backyard reminds me of the tropical jungles back home. On warm, sunny mornings, I can sit with a cup of coffee and survey all that are growing, planning the rest of my gardening day. The work in the garden varies seasonally and is never dull. Now is the time for harvesting whatever is left before first frost. This includes harvesting the seeds as well as the rest of the vegetables. Fruits are long gone now except for some apples that are still hanging onto the highest branches.

I will be harvesting smoky fennel seeds for tea, for cooking, and for donating to the Los Alamos Community Seed Library, which is holding a Seed Drive through February 2023. Seeds can be donated at the Mesa Public Library, the White Rock Branch Library, and at PEEC. 

There will be more than enough seeds to put into jars for friends and family, stock the selves of Gaia’s Pantry in the parking lot of the Unitarian Church, and leave some for the birds this winter.

A scene from KokHeong McNaughton’s garden. Courtesy photo