Meet the Gardener: Paved landscape is no problem for this Auburn senior

Dorothy Womack thinks inside the box, raising vegetables by the dozens
By: Gloria Young, Home & Garden
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Tomatoes and eggplants are thriving at this Auburn apartment complex, despite the scarcity of tillable soil and abundance of paved parking lots surrounded by red-hued hardpan. It’s the work of resident Dorothy Womack, 84, who has created green thumb magic using earth boxes — self-contained planters equipped with a system for easy watering. Womack, who was born in Auburn and graduated from Placer High in 1942, learned about the planting boxes and began using them while living in Oregon. When she moved back to the foothills about three years ago, she brought the idea with her. “We planted them in early April,” she said Monday. “There are 10 boxes and they’re doing very well.” This year she added trellises, and now her Sweet 100 tomato vines are thriving as climbers. Womack has enlisted the help of neighbor, Susan Parker, to share garden duties. “It’s Mutt and Jeff helping each other, a couple of co-pilots,” Parker said. After adding the soil and a fertilizer strip to the boxes, the main task is watering every day. And picking the vegetables, too — particularly the tomatoes. “There could be hundreds of them,” Womack said. “Sweet 100s are quite prolific. There’s a long season. They’re always getting new blossoms. This year’s first crop of green beans has been harvested and eaten already. “But I’m starting a new crop,” Womack said. There’s also zucchini, basil and tarragon. In fact, the success of the earth boxes has prompted Womack to get even more creative. “We brought six bags of soil and cut slits in the top of the bags, put them on the ground and put plants in them,” she said. “We’re growing peppers and cucumbers. It’s getting a good start. We have our fingers crossed that it will do well.” Womack really didn’t begin gardening until adulthood, but doesn’t find it too surprising that she liked it immediately. “I think gardening must be in my blood because I’m from the Hammond family in Auburn and they’re all gardeners, too,” she said. “An uncle, Clyde Hammond, lived until he was 103 or 104, and he was a gardener.” What does she enjoy most about her hobby? “It’s just a challenge to see something develop and watch it grow,” she said. For Parker, who grew up in Napa County, her favorite part of helping Womack is being outdoors and working with the plants. “I was raised on ranches,” she said. “I spent most of my life on them so (I enjoy) just being in the dirt and seeing things thrive.” Womack and Parker’s hobby is not only yielding tasty results, it’s also a way to bring the residents of the complex together. “Anybody who wants them, can pick them and eat them,” Womack said of the garden vegetables.” Parker agreed. “One of the reasons for doing this besides digging in the dirt is to have neighbors come out and about,” she said. “It has helped to get people to talk to each other.”