JUNEAU - Like exercising regularly or learning how to speak fluent Spanish, gardening is one of those resolutions I make every January and sometimes actually start, but never wind up finishing.
Inch by Inch, Row by Row 052610 NEWS 1 For the Capital City Weekly JUNEAU - Like exercising regularly or learning how to speak fluent Spanish, gardening is one of those resolutions I make every January and sometimes actually start, but never wind up finishing.

Libby Sterling

Walking slowly through Ed Buyarski's garden

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Story last updated at 5/26/2010 - 12:47 pm

Inch by Inch, Row by Row
Walking slowly through Ed Buyarski's garden

JUNEAU - Like exercising regularly or learning how to speak fluent Spanish, gardening is one of those resolutions I make every January and sometimes actually start, but never wind up finishing.

With an out-of-town stint on the horizon and the window for planting rapidly closing, I'd pretty much given up again on this year's dreams of feeding my family and decorating my property. That is, I would have, were it not for the words of local master gardener Ed Buyarski.

"People think the season for gardening is now, but it never really stops," he said the other morning from his Edenic two-and-a-half acre compound, situated on a remarkably sunny parcel of former muskeg barely a stone's throw from Tee Harbor. "But really, you can garden all year long if you want to."

A devoted listener to his regular gardening segment on KTOO, I'd ventured out there to connect a face to the voice that comes on every Thursday at precisely 7:55 a.m.-the primary way I gauge how late or early I'm running.

Buyarski, 56, and his wife Janis run Ed's Edible Landscaping, a garden consulting/open by-appointment commercial nursery he characterizes as "giving people choices of what to put in their dirt." As the name implies, almost all Buyarski's offerings are fit for human consumption.

"Especially with a little bacon grease in the dressing," he said, picking a sizeable kale head for us to taste.

An unassuming man with a bushy gray beard, an easy laugh and a proclivity for bad gardening puns, Ed Buyarski gives an overall impression of health, like he's spent a lifetime not only doing what he loves, but also eating bushels of carrots, peas, and spinach, which, since they thrive in cold, wet weather, can actually be planted very early in the season and then again in August.

"Oh, and kale - everyone should grow red Russian kale. I'll show you," said Buyarski, motioning for me to follow. "Then you can use your own 'flowery' words."

Interestingly enough, the words that best describe Buyarski's display garden aren't very flowery at all, words such as genuine, eclectic and humble. Impressive, but not ostentatious. Painstaking. Functional.

"We planted everything you see here," Buyarski said, "except the weeds."

Some of what he meant by "everything": box after box of garlic - "never enough garlic," hearty kiwis, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, and ornamental rhubarb, a primordial-looking ten-foot swirl of dark green and electric maroon - "a dinosaur plant," he called it, and I had to agree, the thing was downright Jurassic.

"It almost has a personality," Buyarski said. For a moment I thought he was going to shake its hand.

Fruit trees, shrubs, and a cluster of bamboo - yes, bamboo - gave way to a slow-moving creek fed by a tiny pond, the entire system dotted with yellow wild marsh marigolds out of a French Impressionists' dream. And beside the house, a classic stone labyrinth (his wife is an expert labyrinth builder - together, they built the one at Shrine of St. Therese).

What struck me most, however, were all the eccentric little touches - gazing balls fashioned from old oil tubing; wood pallets re-imagined as footbridges; deer and moose skulls dripping with moss; fencing made of seine nets. He built his newest greenhouse out of recycled temporary boat shelters. In fact, Ed Buyarski seems to recycle everything - even a 30-lb. porcupine he killed last year, caught in the act of burgling his apple tree.

"The ravens and the eagles enjoyed it the next morning," he said.

Buyarski also salvages wild native plants such as irises, chocolate lilies and other shade-loving ground cover, as well as spruce and hemlock. He's even saved several "at-risk" Devil's Club plants.

"My wife will be happy to get those out of the front yard," he said.

A hobbyist gardener since his boyhood in northern Michigan, Ed Buyarski started getting serious after moving to Wrangell in 1983.

"I was a stay-at-home dad, so I'd take the kids out to play in the mud," he said. "Pretty soon, I was playing in the mud, too."

Eventually, word of his talents spread. Within several years, Buyarski was consulting on home gardens throughout Southeast Alaska, completing master classes in Petersburg and Sitka, before moving to Juneau in 1992. For that enterprise, he actually filled an entire shipping container with compost, another with potted trees.

Gardening can be competitive, with people vying for titles such as most colorful, earliest blooms, first of a new plant, nicest lawn.

"But gardeners are a helpful bunch," he said, noting, "as soon as they get something growing."

At this point, the tips began to flow. First and foremost, beginners tend do well with herbs such as rosemary, chives and oregano, which do "exceedingly well" around Juneau. Also, seaweed can be used for nutrition, weed control, and slug repellent - "until the salt washes off." It's also rife with crushed shells, an excellent source of slow-release lime.

"Oh, and I'll make my confession now: I do use Round-Up on the tougher weeds," Bayarski said. He also admitted an inability to grow onions, red ripe peppers and tomatoes from seed. "I'll try anything, but once I kill it three times, that's enough."

Above all else, Buyarski advised prospective gardeners to "cultivate" a good chiropractor and massage therapist. He also told me to hire a teenager to move my rocks.

In addition to periodic public plant sales, Ed's Edibles is open by appointment. Call 789-2299 to schedule.

Geoff Kirsch is a writer in Juneau. Visit his Web site at