About the Site
You Grow Girl™ was launched by Gayla Trail in February 2000 and has grown into a thriving online community that speaks to a new kind of gardener, seeking to redefine the modern world relationship to plants. This contemporary, laid-back approach to organic gardening places equal importance on environmentalism, style, affordability, art, and humour.
Now in its twelfth year online, You Grow Girl™ has become a thriving community for like minded gardeners and even self-confessed “black thumbs.” The project’s aim has always been to promote exploration, excitement and a d.i.y approach to growing plants without the restrictions of traditional ideas about gardening.
GAYLA TRAIL is a writer, photographer, and graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of two best-selling books on gardening: You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening (Simon & Schuster, 2005) and Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces (Clarkson Potter/Random House, 2010). [In Spring 2012, Grow Great Grub will be released in Croatian and German translations. You Grow Girl is also currently available for the Kindle]
Gayla’s third book, Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces hits bookstore shelves February 2012.
Gayla’s work as a writer and photographer has appeared in O Magazine, New York Times, Newsweek, Organic Gardening Magazine, ReadyMade, Domino, Budget Living, LA Times, Life Magazine, and more. She is the national food gardening columnist for The Globe & Mail and is a frequent speaker and spokesperson on the topics of urban gardening, ecology, home preserving, and community.
Download a hi-res, print quality photograph of Gayla or find out more about her here. You will also find photos of events and workshops, and some press here.
One of the main reasons I started You Grow Girl™ over a decade ago was because I could not find a gardening media that reflected my experiences as a young, urban gardener working with a microscopic budget. I seemed to be the antithesis of everything a gardener was represented to be, and my gardens (the hot roof of my apartment building and a scrap of City-owned land alongside) were definitely not the sort of green spaces fancy magazines sent photographers out to capture.
To complicate matters, my background is not what you’d expect from an obsessive gardener, let alone a professional garden writer. I grew up in Ontario, Canada, in a middling, working class townhouse complex. There was a backyard, but it was hardly large enough to claim the title. The “gardens” as I recall them, were nearly non-existent. Back then, Nature was a fallow field behind the Food City plaza. Consequently, overgrown parking lots, derelict spaces, and urban brownfields are still some of my most favourite and inspiring places to spend time.
However strong my gardener’s desire to cultivate and control, there remains a fondness in my heart for an unintentional, uncultivated mess.
I remember my first plant fondly: It was a little parsley grown from seed in a cup. I was five. And even though parsley is a biennial, and the plant is long since dead, I still think about that little seedling and imagine it living on through its progeny. There have been countless plant loves since and many more that I’m yet to discover and explore. While growing food is my forte, I’m a fairly equal opportunity plant lover with obsessions in a wide assortment of plant families.
I have often cited my maternal grandmother and a bucket of potatoes growing on her tiny, senior citizen’s hi-rise balcony as the inspiration for my life as an urban gardener. Scylla did not shepard me into the world of gardening as is often the garden writer’s story. But she and countless other new Canadians living in this wonderfully multicultural city I live in (Toronto) have shown me by example that one does not need a backyard or a nicely padded bank account to grow your own food, delight in the wonder of cultivating plants, or become a really great gardener.
As an adult I have grown a string of gardens in urban spaces. And for one short summer there was a sunny backyard; the home of my first, real vegetable patch.
Since starting this site, I have continued to grow an army of potted plants on the roof. I still don’t have a backyard (Update: I do as-of Nov 2010) or a piece of land to call my own. And yet I garden more than ever. I’ve even added two additional growing spaces to the roster: a community garden plot and a local neighbour yardshare.
After countless transformations, this site has become, more than anything, an account of my personal gardening experiences and in some cases presents a record of my own gardens. I am my own audience, and I think it’s important to show other aspiring gardeners facing similar limitations what is possible with a bit of ingenuity, perseverance, and shifted expectations.
The Roof Garden
Update: I moved in October 2010. The roof garden no longer exists.
This is my baby, my own nearly personal sanctuary in the sky and the one that is closest to home. It is also a growing lab, where I test new varieties and put plants to the test to learn first-hand what is possible in a pot. The downsides are no outdoor tap, and a punishing exposure to wind, sun, heat, and an uncontrollable assortment of urban wildlife who stop by daily to feast on the banquet.
I’ve been gardening here for nearly 15 years and have grown just about every food plant you can imagine in containers of all sorts and sizes.
The Street/Guerrilla Garden
Update: I moved in October 2010. Some of the plants that currently reside in this space will be dug up and shifted over to the new garden in Spring 2011.
I built this garden slowly over the course of about a decade on the side of the building in City-owned land on a very busy, public corner. Again there is no outdoor tap and the soil when I started was as hard and compacted as concrete. Along the way, a car smashed into the wall, leaving automotive debris behind, and I’ve pulled my fair share of used needles, syringes, discarded clothing, and dog poo from underneath the foliage. Despite the hurdles it used to be a wonderful space to grow pretty perennials for many years.
But over the last few years gentrification has swept through the neighbourhood and the new, suburban bar crowd have wreaked havoc on the garden. Gardening there now is a constant battle to catch up to daily disasters and I no longer have the heart for it.
The Parkdale Community Beer Garden
I can’t recall exactly how long I’ve been gardening at the community garden. Is it a decade now? I started out in one plot but the overhanging trees grew taller and I switched plots. That’s the nice, succinct version of the story. What actually happened is too complicated, but will show up in one of my books, someday.
Slowly over the years I have moved from a more traditional vegetable garden to a perennial edible garden that includes a wide variety of hardy fruit bushes and herbs. In the summer I add annuals such as tomatoes and peppers, but the bones of the garden are perennial plants that are never dug up. Recently, I’ve added in the odd non-edible ornamental that has personal meaning to me since the Street Garden is no longer a safe place to keep those plants.
The Yardshare Garden
Update: This property was sold in 2011 and the garden is currently being dismantled.
This newest addition came about by luck in the spring of 2010 when I was desperately looking for a new space to expand into. Community gardens have grown in popularity and it has become increasingly difficult to get a space. I applied for a plot at my ideal location, The High Park Allotments, but was so far down on the wait list I knew it would be an impossibility.
Thankfully, my friend Barry offered up the chance to grow in a yard that neighbours have been sharing for the last few years. We grow communally in the space and the yard owners receive produce in payment.
Orto (Terra Firma)
In late October 2010 I moved into a small house with a bowling alley backyard and a small, ramshackle, blue shed. We’ve done a tiny amount of gardening here, but the real work will begin in the spring as soon as we can stick a shovel into the soil.