258. Neighborhood Gardener, Dedicated Mom, and Elementary Educator | Nicole Holohan-O’Shea | Long Island, NY

Thursday, Dec 27, 2018. I have an old friend from HS on the line, who is a little bit new to gardening, but has had some early success and a teacher as well!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m an elementary school teacher for 21 years on Long Island.


I’ve always been a renter, love to rent!  I always say, I’m the best renter you could ever have! Then at 47 bought a house with my husband and my daughter. When we bought the house in our price range, we had to look really hard to make sure there were no structural problems.

We wanted unusual things

  • workshop
  • shed
  • shop

skimming things in our price range. We weren’t looking, I thought funny in an ad,

  • landscaping
  • old growth plants

I thought that was a funny thing to put in.

Bought our house dec 31st

never looked outside until the spring when my daughter went to kick a ball, and it landed in some kind of thorn bush and that’s how I got into gardening because we had to do land clearing first!

I never expected to be doing land clearing in my forties! Shock!

You were telling me a bit about it! Like you were joking about your husband getting a chain saw and you had to have 6 guys come in with machetes! Like this isn’t just a little project!

Yes, there was an invasive vine that was killing trees

It was so thick, some of the roots were thick as a leg

very deep into the ground

I had some friends come over who said things from

you will never get rid of it

to it will cost  $35k

To get rid and I sometimes think that was the best thing they could have said to us was you’ll never get rid of it! Because my husband’s an irishman and we took it on as a challenge

It took about 3 years to get all of it

our neighbors were infected too!


Community Neighborhood and Team Work

and we worked together

Got rid of the fence between us and we got rid of this invasive vine!

bundle it

take it to the garbage collectors

It wasn’t easy to do! But we did it! However, once you clear land, then you have these big spaces and you have to put something in them, so then I had to figure out what plants to buy. It was a big project!

And you have such a lovely tiered garden, when I was here in June we got to come over for your solstice party, it’s just gorgeous!

my husband did it


He was very clever, our backyard that is sloped

put in stones! big stones

to create these three tiers

cement steps

easy access the garden

I think that is a big key to make sure that it is very easy to access

stepping over the plants

not gonna fall


in those tiers

I don’t think it would be as easy to access.

And it looks lovely!

thanks, thanks to him!


Tell me about your first gardening experience?

no garden

scary home

we had the home where we left the bicycles

My mother was not a gardener, my father was not.

I think I came into it very late in life!

I think that will be inspiring that you did come late and are doing so well!

You can do anything in your life if you really want to, you’re body might not work as well, but you can do it!

I’m a big believer in that too!

How did you learn how to garden organically?

Well my husband just said no chemicals

don’t want to put in any part of the lawn because they can run down to where we’re growing vegetables

You have to do more weeding that way,

it’s also cheaper so that appeals to me.


I have a daughter

I wanted her to see:

  • how garden grows
  • dormant period
  • the excitement of spring
  • the cycle of life

I hadn’t really experienced myself


That first year

  • we started with tulips

We just love that the colors that come up!

Explaining to her!

Planting the bulbs in the fall is a very good lesson

One thing that gardening teaches to you is

  • patience
  • faith

You’re not gonna get return on everything that you do, but whatever the percentage is, it’s very worth the effort

learned pacing myself

at first we were hoping we would clear it in one year, so we have to be patient! It didn’t take one year to get to this condition

That’s great advice! I agree! My husband is very patient, sometimes I’m like how do you

he has that vision, sometimes I’m like I don’t remember all this dirt!

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

The tulips grew very well


I think in terms of vegetables I really liked the cherry tomatoes

I don’t have as much success with the big tomatoes! But the cherry tomatoes!

they’re so easy

I can make a salad

I make a simple sauce by cutting them up with garlic and basil

My daughter likes to eat them like a snack

They don’t take a ton of room, they grow well where you put them and you can use them so many ways.

That’s the same problem we have.

they take so long to ripen

animals sometimes they come and eat them.

big rabbit problem here on Long Island

I know there is a big problem, they are everywhere!

They are reproducing like rabbits!


Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

I wanna try and put in some more flowers

tried to put in a wild patch of flowers

issue is to try to seed in the pot

I would like to have just a patch of wildflowers but we don’t have that!

I’ve had the most luck with perennials, we were talking about sage last night, things like


butterfly flower – which is like this big red kind of bloom with yellow

Mike does plant the seeds and then transplant them

You know what grows good is calendula and they come up like the dill, popping up all over!

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

The fennel

I thought

it grows beautifully

it seems like a shame when you harvest it

it’s a root vegetable so then it’s gone.

I’ve been just keeping it, it has a beautiful white flower. It does draw bees, we’re always looking for bees

I was just reading that fennel is good for you.

that seemed like

I’d rather keep it like a plant

roses that I had, they were choked with this invasive vine

I haven’t gotten them to go up the trellis but I’m getting there.

Hey interesting fact, I’ve been researching for my garden course is that garlic is a companion for roses, it keeps the fungus away and bugs.

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Let’s Get to the Root of Things

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?

I think weeding is everybody’s bug-a-boo

clean out at the beginning and the end of the year

multiple days just to get the garden put to bed

clean up in the spring and I have five yards of mulch that has to be put down!

that’s a lot of mulch!

what’s helped me is having a wheelbarrow

look at your backyard if you have any kind of slope or rocks or bumpy surfaces, it’s worth getting a wheelbarrow with

big round tires

dumping feature.

That’s interesting, I first thought  shovel but then I a changed it to a wheelbarrow and what was a game changer for us was getting one with a flat free tire!

I’ve never gotten a flat, hope you didn’t curse me Jackie!

Yeah! I flat free tire. We have about 3-4, Mike’s always hauling rocks, out of the garden, doing rock work. We live in the Rocky Mountains so they are always coming out of the soil!


What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

harvesting vegetables

going to cook something

We love to cook in our house!

getting fresh herbs

  • we just had Thanksgiving and getting that huge sage from our garden
  • adding the taste of a fresh sage! Seeing my husband’s face!

also, the first tulips

Grape Hyacinths and Tulips in Spring at Mike's Green Garden

the first signs that winter is over and spring is coming and we got through another New York winter

My family always laughs, they’re like you live in Montana and I’m like I hate NY Winters, i come here and freeze!

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

I was shown how to prune, I didn’t understand it

the person who was showing me how to prune

I wasn’t understanding where to cut down to!

that’s ok

I realized it was ok to make mistakes in gardening

you’re not gonna get everything 100%

that’s a good thing for a perfectionist like me!

It’s fine to make mistakes!

pruners garden tool

I’m glad to hear that because I often don’t feel like I have any idea what I’m doing when I’m pruning, and she just walks around with her pruners all the time, but she did get me these amazing CutCo pruners and they make cutting lilacs etc just like butter. And also I want to put a mailbox down in the garden so they are protected but always down there.


I did find myself wanting to deadhead more, and I was learning about the chop and drop with the buckwheat last year, which was hard to cut these beautiful flowers but I just kept repeating I’m feeding the soil, I’m feeding the soil!


I wanted to ask you because you said you put down 5 yards of mulch, but is that every year, or just the first year when you pulled out the vines, because we had a cute little 5 yard dump truck once and I know what that means and that’s a lot of mulch!

Yes, you do it one time in the spring!

Wait, every year? Or just the one year?

When we removed all those vines there’s like a trench its the length of the property that’s about 4 feet deep, I put mulch down there, we have some bushes, its gonna take a few years before it’s a full hedge.

I put it there, I put it down where I have hostas I have it all there. It seems we have a lot of borders for the size property we have. I put it inside all the borders, it keeps the weeds down!

It helps the plants too!

I hope it helps with the water

that’s why we have so much mulch

I know some people don’t use any mulch and others who swear by it and I am one of those people who swears by it, because it keeps down those invasive plants.

I’m just overprotective about not having plants that I don’t want in the garden.

What are you using for mulch because Mike uses straw? I know people don’t like straw because animals and mice can get into it.

I think it’s chopped wood chips

It’s a commercial product that you buy. Suburban Long Islanders love it!

All our neighbors mulch, it’s almost like peer pressure!

Its used a lot around the outside of beds, where you have border plants.

I do notice, when I look around my mom’s neighborhood and walk the dog. Maybe because of my podcast, it really stood out to me, when I was here in June, how many of the yards didn’t seem to have weeds, the mulch under the ground. they have these bushes, and there’s no weed in-between them!

it keeps the weeding down

the plants that you want to grow

they’re very expensive here

they’re an investment in your home

they’re not competing with the weeds

Mike has this system, where he plants his seeds, and then after a certain time, he pulls all the weeds, and then he puts the mulch down.

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

I would definitely want a wheelbarrow

you could use other things because when we moved here we did not one gardening tool

not a hose nothing

moving things

I don’t think people understand till you actually grew it you think oh, it just grew there

sit in your garden

all have to

small person and I can’t lift a lot, so I totally need it.

Mike’s load-hog, I felt like that thing we used to have that you could pull behind the riding lawnmower was the best! That thing could haul anything!

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?


definitely love pesto

  • make it with the basil
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • pine nuts,  that are quite dear
  • walnuts
  • cold
  • warm
  • freezes very well

nothing that I like then finding a bag of pesto in the freezer!

my husband’s very good at making pickles

infused oils with basil

We’ve grown eggplant and peppers that makes a delicious sauce

tomatoes of course thee’s so many things you can do with tomatoes but my number one thing is the pesto!

A favorite internet resource?


I’m more of a

ask my neighbors

other then your podcast, not a commercial for your show.

There’s something about the internet, there’s something

I feel it’s a nice way to talk to your neighbor

my neighbor has a fig tree

Another thing to talk about is sharing the food is a way to connect to my neighbors


way to talk to people

way to share things

the computer doesn’t do it for me.

Interesting, I can agree, the one I have to talk about is that I have a hard time watching videos. Which is funny, when I started the podcast, I actually went to the webinar I thought I was going to webinar on fire not podcasting on fire and I thought mike would teach people via video and it would be his show. But once I got in I was hooked and love it!

Maybe you could connect me with Eric’s mom because I do have ea lot of listeners in Ireland! They are big gardeners.

What’s amazing about gardening, is it is so much more difficult to garden in Ireland then it is here, and it’s amazing what they manage to do. The other thing is, they don’t have,

on Long Island, when you drive by someone’s garden, so much is done on long island by landscapers and they want to use pesticides because it’s easy and cheaper then the human labor

then the weeds

in Ireland

is a gardener


to garden

things you wouldn’t expect

They have a lot of tropical plants

palm trees

things you wouldn’t expect to grow there.

another thing they have a lot of is rain

how they grow with the rain because you can have too much rain which is just as difficult as too little rain

just saw it last summer

artichokes there!

at least 8—9

a foot across

Which they don’t eat, they use as a flower.

My mom loves artichokes! I don’t think I’ve seen an artichoke

they’re incredible

so large what you get in the grocery store

they come into their full size maybe because they’re not to eat!

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?


other then I enjoyed

the journal that you made and the idea that of keeping a garden journal

makes sense to do that

can’t remember what you did before or how long you did

learning by talking to people

Absolutely because chapter three in my garden course is all about Building relationships because so many of my guests have said that’s where they learn the most!

sharing produce

one neighbor loves cucumbers so we give him as many of those as we can and he always returns it with tomatoes and eggplants

used to build community in the suburbs!

in urban areas there are community garden in my church is which is very very active

I think one of the benefits is how it can build positive interactions with your neighbors!

Final question-

if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

more effective gardening programs in the school

As an elementary school teacher of course I have to say I wish there was a more effective gardening programs in the school because a lot of the children I teach live in apartments and they share one house so they don’t have the opportunity to garden and the only experience they could get it through our school doing it and we did put in a community garden

did put in through the heroic efforts of primarily one teacher a garden but not a vegetable garden where the kids get to eat what we grow. I would love to see support on some kind of level whether is’

federal level or state

There’s so many issues, just when we have this community garden, just getting the



It was a huge project that would require a lot of resources!

It may be just field trips to the community garden.

school bus they could take during the day.

But then you have to have a bus driver.

Yes, but we go to other places

some field trips

I feel that every child should go to the library and any kind of garden and a farm!

When you ask children basic questions they don’t know about the basic life cycle. We read them books but that doesn’t work the same as

It would work if the had something tangible to relate it to but if they just get the books, it’s to abstract. If they have been to the garden and have practical experience otherwise it’s like a fantasy thing they can’t really relate to.

life cycle

they don’t get the sense of time

of the recycling and the seeds dying and then the seeds becoming a plant

I was going to talk to you about? or ask you? Do your students eat at school? because what drove me crazy, was throwing food in the garbage at school, not composting in the cafeteria. I would bring buckets to my classroom, it drove me crazy, I just couldn’t figure a way to make it go? You’re hauling in all this mulch, wouldn’t it be easier to collect the compost at your school?

one thing you will if you talk to my mother in-law, when you go to Europe especially Ireland the way they recycle, there compared to how we do it here.

They literally sort every scrap of garbage

its required to be food scraps go

doing it on a community level

IDK if in the states it would work because of the raccoons and all our critters.

IDK because Waldorf is right behind my mom’s house and they have 3 giant compost bins back there without a problem and where we are here in Montana. IDK it seems like if animals were gonna get in our compost they would, but they really don’t occasionally the chickens or a skunk will dig out the eggshells. But it’s just not a problem for us.

My mom buries her compost in the ground. It drives me crazy, but it works for her, but when I’m there she’s always like how do we have all this compost? She’ll be like are we really having another salad. I think it’s so funny cause she’s the one who taught me to recycle.

compost is probably gonna be best handled when it’s part of the recycling process. I mean when you think that when we were growing up, we didn’t recycle and now we recycle, it’s not strange to us to separate our cans and plastics and paper. So I think that will be the next step.

I think we’re headed towards it.

I remember reading in the times when I was here in June, there are all these restaurants in NYC where people were wanting to recycle.

I always say were not the worst of times, best of times

we have so much processed food and so much food chemically based

but we’ve also never such an awareness


food to table

so polarized between convenience food




very polarized where we are.

same thing with restaurants we’ve never been able to get so much convenient

drive through


able to afford it


high quality

wild fish

It’s still very much didvided by price point, that’s what has determined for me

I agree, I am so blessed that I get to eat all this healthy food Mike grows, I think it helps me stay healthy because I do tend to eat a lot of food, and I think that having access to healthy organic vegetables help me stay there.

Anything else we were gonna touch on?

Just to reiterated I think as a parent, to make sure our children aren’t exposed as negative things, need to focus on exposing them for positive things

too much screen time only works if they have positive outlets


get the child off the screen and get them outside, have them dig

came into garden late at a great time

when I had a child

My husband was so

positive and felt it was important for Andi to get outside touch the dirt and worms etc!

Thank you so much I think it will inspire listeners to

five year table instead of thinking, I’m gonna have a garden in a year.

You and I are complete opposites on the other end of the spectrum, I’m like good enough!!!



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