On a small block in Germantown, where the houses are almost touching shoulders, there’s a huge pile of mulch covering an entire parking space in front of a house. Peeking out from the iron front gate is a bush full of raspberries, and as you walk into the front yard you see garden beds everywhere, and containers with blossoming marigolds. Follow along to the backyard and you see a chicken coop, vines with flowering squashes, and a variety of native flowers.
Welcome to MyLisa Flowers-Shipanga’s big experiment. With her husband and two children, Shipanga has created a year round gardening eco-system, and now teaches others to do the same.
“My parents had a garden growing up. And so my mom did a lot of canning and pickling,” said Flowers-Shipanga. The family moved from New Jersey to Easton, Pennsylvania, and the garden grew exponentially. “We grew everything, corn to watermelons… collards, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, you name it, they grew it. But they only grew for summer. I started growing all year round a few years ago.”
Flowers- Shipanga started by researching how homesteaders in the Midwest and farmers in colder growing zones plant and harvest year round. She decided to just try it, and with the right mulching and protective barriers, she grew many vegetables in her yard to grow all winter, here in Philadelphia.
When everything shut down due to the pandemic, coupled with health issues, Flowers-Shipanga had to be on bedrest for much of the spring. While her husband took care of the house and garden duties, she started formulating an entire curriculum that could help novice gardeners push their growing to the next level. She even started writing an entire book on gardening.
Teaching was not part of her plan. Parents at the Mt. Airy Homeschool Co-op asked her to put together gardening classes. “People asked me, can you please just teach us what you do?”, Flowers-Shipanga said. She also had videos on social media about the way she is gardening, and her followers asked her for a whole series of classes. They suggested the topics and even gave her ideas for the pricing of the entire package.
Flowers-Shipanga wrote the curriculum and started the classes this autumn, and also keeps adding to her front and backyards, filling a makeshift greenhouse from Aldi’s, and adding more container beds with as many different seedlings as she could.
She wants Philly folks interested in gardening to know it took her years of digging and reading to get her to this level of gardening.
“You’re probably going to fail, and you’re probably going to kill stuff,” she continues. “I learned this by killing things for several seasons. I didn’t know lighting mattered, I didn’t know soil mattered, I didn’t know spacing mattered.” She has had successful gardens now for multiple years.
“It’s kind of like life,” MyLisa says. “Just jump in.”
You can find out more about MyLisa’s gardens and gardening classes on her Facebook page: My’s Garden.