What if getting the freshest and cleanest produce was as easy as walking out of your front door? That’s exactly what Amber Olsen does. Her garden gives her the ability to pick fresh fruit off of trees and unearth delicious vegetables. “I really liked the feeling of growing something of my own. It’s a very fulfilling process,” she says.
Olsen’s passion for gardening took root when she moved to Maple Grove about five years ago. “The first year, I did not have a garden, but I started building it the next summer that I lived there,” she says. Since then, she has grown it into something very impressive—and on display for neighbors and passersby alike. Unlike most gardens that are plotted in backyards, Olsen’s garden is in her front yard. Why? The answer is simple—sunlight. “The most sun is on the front corner of the yard, and we’re on a corner lot,” she says.
“It’s very prominent,” Olsen says of the garden. “It’s become sort of a landmark in the neighborhood. When I meet new neighbors, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, you’re in the house with the garden,’” she says. People aren’t shy about stopping by the garden, and, if she’s out there, Olsen is happy to answer questions and discuss the advantages of home growing produce. “It’s something cool to talk about with neighbors, and it’s sparked a lot of conversations,” she says.
The vegetable area requires the most space. With seven raised beds, Olsen has more than enough space to grow a bushel full of delicious vegetables, including winter squash, tomatoes, garlic, parsnips, lettuce, peppers, radishes and more. Olsen tries new items every year, even popcorn. “It was neat to grow,” she says, adding, “It didn’t pop very well.” Sometimes, it’s just a matter of a process of elimination. This year, she’s trying out shiitake mushrooms and luffa, but garlic remains one of her favorite plants to grow.
The sunniest patch in her yard is reserved for fruit trees, including some cherry and apple trees, a plum tree, two pear trees and one peach tree. Placed among other trees in the yard, the fruit trees bring an added visual touch to the garden, especially while they blossom.
The greenhouse is Olsen’s most recent addition to the garden. “It’s pretty big. The footprint is about the size of three raised beds,” she says. The greenhouse was once used to grow tomatoes and peppers, however she found that it’s best used for starting her seedlings.
In addition to the produce, Olsen says pollinators are essential to her garden, noting that native plants, such as swamp milkweed and anise hyssop, add diversity to the garden and attract pollinators, such as black wasps, finches, hummingbirds and bees.
Along with being passionate about growing her own food, Olsen is committed to caring for the environment, and she uses those principles in her garden. “I’ve read a lot about organic and synthetic chemicals and fertilizers and whatnot,” she says. “It just aligns with my goals to not use any synthetic chemicals. I don’t want to take the risk of harming any pollinators.” Additionally, this aids in keeping her food “clean” and eliminating the risk of harmful chemicals leaching into the ground and finding their way to the nearby wetlands.
Olsen hopes to add another element to her garden—chickens. She’s petitioned Maple Grove’s city council to allow backyard chickens. “They’re a really good tool,” she says. “They’ll eat insects from the garden, and they eat food scraps.” Chickens also produce manure to put back into the garden.
Along with the clear passion that Olsen has for a greener way of life, her garden continues to be, first and foremost, therapeutic for her. “It’s like an escape,” she says.