Our #GrowInspired series features our innovative and creative garden partners. Whether they’re working with two acres or 200 square feet, we are constantly in awe of their hard work and kick-ass gardens. These are some of our favorite gardens and gardeners who inspire us to get out and play in the dirt.
Wendi Phan, known for her Instagram @ItsWendiLand and her popular YouTube Channel with the same name, packs a big punch in her tiny Southern California garden. With such a small space she has to be picky about her plant choices; she grows mostly nutrient-rich, healing plants that she can use in a multitude of ways to enrich her healthy lifestyle. Wendi’s grandfather introduced her love of gardening at a young age and she says in the past 10 years she’s become much more focused on growing for her health. Wendi hopes to inspire people to grow more of their own nutritious food no matter what size space they have.
The garden is really like an alley in a lot of ways — it is about 6’ x 66’ and surrounded on three sides by a house, a fence, and a tall wall. So I have a lot of shade, which can be a challenge. I have a lot of edible, nutrient-rich perennials including Longevity Spinach, Tree Cabbage, Tree Collards, Barbados Gooseberry and Kale, so at the beginning of the season it’s really a lot of plugging in between existing plants. I plant anything that grows vertically! And then fill in with more bush- or shrub-like plants in front. I have to grow upwards as much as possible so that means I like to grow a lot of greens, Asian vegetables, beans, and peas. I like to grow as many rare varieties as I can.
On Why She Grows And Inspiring Others To Garden
I try to inspire other people to grow their own food, especially more nutritious food and to be healthier. When I first began gardening I grew fragrant flowers, and then slowly shifted into growing more for my health. I actually started growing intensively for health because of my dog, who was sick. I was doing a lot of growing for her in her end-stages of life and using a lot of the herbs in my garden to help her. Since then, I’ve grown a lot for my family and friends and shown them how to grow themselves, which turned into something I’ve extended to my Internet platform. I want to show people how to help the environment and eat better — live a cleaner life.
Wendy uses her small space to grow nutrient-dense food.
Gardening is so relaxing. Even when I’m doing more labor intensive stuff, it's still very meditative. For me, it's just so soothing. I feel really happy in the garden and I feel like I belong. I live in my garden. I don’t have any permanent seating in the garden because that would take away from growing space! But I do like to sit on one of my raised beds often to enjoy it.
On The Magical Luffa Plant In Her Garden
People think of Luffas as a sponge; some people use it and think it comes from the ocean, but it is actually a plant — a gourd. I’ve been growing an Asian variety of Luffa for a while and my family actually eats it. It can grow really big and remain soft so it stays edible. If you continue letting it grow, it will get hard and dry and you can use it as a sponge. So it’s a really versatile plant. If you asked me to choose just a handful of plants to take with me to [start new], Luffa is one of them. It’s just so versatile; it’s practical, edible, and you can clean with it.
Luffa is really mild tasting; it has a bit of a sweetness to it, almost like Zucchini. But it’s so fluffy, kind of like a marshmallow. It’s super juicy, so to prepare it I usually chop it up and make a broth with it or a quick stir-fry. All that juice comes out and makes a really nice, fast, rich, vegetable broth. I can throw Luffa into a pan with no water, nothing else, and you’ll end up with a plate of sauce with the Luffa. It’s very cool!
The other great thing about the Luffa is I love peeling the skin, blending it up, and use it as a body scrub.
Okinawa Spinach (left), Longevity Spinach (right)
Her Favorite Veggies To Grow (Besides Luffa)
I love to grow medicinal herbs, leafy greens like the Ashitaba and Longevity Spinach. Longevity Spinach has been known to help people regulate their blood sugar and it’s one of the easier plants to grow, so even if you’re new to gardening you can be successful. It’s so mild tasting, you can use it in place of anything you’d use Spinach or Kale in, like smoothies, sandwiches, salads or stir frys.
Tricks To Growing Veggies In Shade
If I were growing from seed, I would have to get the plants much taller — high enough so that they can reach for the sun. So sowing directly from seed doesn’t work for me as well, because growth in this garden is going to be slower than growth in a much bigger space with sun shining through each plant. So I try to take a shortcut and plant plugs as much as possible, but with some of the rare varieties I have to start them from seed on my balcony and transplant them into the garden.
On Using C-BITEs In Her Small Vertical Garden
I have been experimenting a lot, starting with using them on my large structure that I use for my Luffa plant. They get very big and I’m not handy enough to build something, so I just use C-BITEs to help trellis the Luffa and they work really well with the structure. As the vine grows some more I try to figure out space for it and use the C-BITEs to secure it.
Recently, I’ve been using C-BITEs not just for trellises but just to hold heavy plants in place. I’ve used them on my Ashitaba plants, which is a Japanese herb, and the flowers shoot up to about 5’ tall and it’s really heavy. So I actually used C-BITEs to help keep the heavy flowers from leaning. C-BITEs are all over the place in my garden!
Wendi’s Advice To Gardeners
Get started growing something that you like. Start with starter plants or plugs rather than starting with seeds. Start with seeds once you’ve gotten more comfortable, because it can be discouraging sometimes. Get a nice-sized, established plant, which is why I offer that on my website. A lot of times people get things that aren’t established, and it just fails on you. It’s great if you have time to tend to little seedlings, but not a lot of people have the time or skills!