On the surface, Tara Swicicki is just your average stay at home mom balancing motherhood, marriage, and life. Peel back the layers that make the woman, and you’ll find a horticulturalist with a boundless enthusiasm and determination for living and the heart of a poet.
At 33, Tara Swicicki is the blogger of the new, hit website TheGardeningMom.com where everyday gardeners and beginners can find tips, instructions, and videos on all things gardening. The website is known for it’s easy to understand format, it’s humorous and friendly prose, and it’s down home feel as only a mother of three can provide. Readers, upon first visit, are welcomed into Tara’s garden and into her world.
What’s Tara’s real story and what does she plan to accomplish with her website besides free tips and advice? Behind the effervescent personality and classic American beauty, there’s a woman with a story of perseverance.
Tara, a student of horticulture at Farmingdale State University, became pregnant shortly before her last year. Tara and her husband decided that she would leave school to take on the responsibilities of motherhood. The couple bought a home atop of one acre in New York’s Long Island in 2005, at the peak of the real estate bubble, and continued building their family and lives unaware of the crisis that soon followed with the burst of the real estate market.
The real estate crash and economic crisis hit their family hard and not long after, Tara’s husband, a landscaper and man of all trades, was injured during a work project which left him unable to work for months. The Swicicki family struggled to make ends meet, unsure if they would be able to provide for their growing family and keep their new home from foreclosure.
Tara remembers when everything came crashing down, “The value dropped like crazy, my husband was in a wheelchair for six to eight months, he was out of work, the cost of putting the kids in daycare outweighed the money I could be earning at work: it was very stressful. ”
As the stressed reached its maximum levels, Tara looked around her for a way to relieve her anxieties. The flat mud that surrounded their home would eventually become her saving grace out of the recession, a dark time in her life, and into a new vision for her family and for the world. The garden offered an outlet to vent her frustrations and worries. Taking each day one at a time, Tara says gardening helped her keep up her family’s morale and provide a positive example for her children, channeling negativity into a productive pursuit.
“As opposed to fighting or getting angry, I just grabbed my handheld cultivator and took it out on the dirt!” Tara laughs, “I like to think that gardens are made out of the frustration of being a mom. I wanted to show my kids that when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. ”
Transforming the one acre around her into a garden tested her resourcefulness and creativity, forcing Tara to find plants and supplies on a shoe string budget. It’s in this limitation that Tara discovered organic vegetable and fruit gardening. She spent hundreds of hours studying entomology, plants, and ways to care for her garden without the use of harsh and expensive pesticides.
“I would love to say that I am an organic gardener simply because I believe in balance and I think it’s right, but I learned organic gardening by not having any money and trying to figure out what mother nature already gave me.” Tara confesses, “I was concerned about fresh fruits and vegetables that I didn’t have to buy; I wanted my children to have the experience of walking through the garden, picking fresh fruit and not having to worry about pesticides. ”
Tara says the lack of money gave her the impetus to reach out to the community, bartering with neighbors to fill her garden with new plants and materials, “90% of the stuff [in my garden] was traded through craigslist or through neighbors. When nobody has money, bartering is the way to go.”
Tara credits the garden to helping her and her husband of ten years maintain their love and passion, despite having three kids and exhausting schedules, as they worked together to making their home an oasis, even creating a lake and a variety of gardens together. As their garden developed, others in their family began taking notice, hiring or bartering with the couple to work on their lawns and gardens which led to more opportunities for work, friendship, and learning for Tara.
The demand for Tara’s skills and the attention she was getting for her knowledge and passion for horticulture was starting to spread. For three years, Tara says, her sister continued to push the idea of a blog. For her birthday, Tara’s sister surprised her with the domain TheGardeningMom.com which finally launched Tara into the world of online blogging no more than two months ago.
Since the site’s launch, the online community is buzzing about TheGardeningMom: Tara won gardener of the month from Costa Farms, was recently interviewed on the Green Racine radio talk show, and was recently mentioned by Newsday.com as a blog to follow. The response, Tara says, has been overwhelmingly positive, “I’m happy people are interested and people comment on how easy to understand it is compared to a lot of websites out there for horticulture. Instead of putting it in difficult terms, I try to put it in a way that’s funny and in a way that people can understand.”
Tara says working on her blog has helped her become a better writer with the goal of someday publishing children’s gardening books, “My writing skills have improved and I’m happy with what I’m doing right now. I’ve written 30 children’s books and most of them are in poetic form, in a gardening context, and from a children’s point of view.” Say says her goal is to help kids get outside and appreciate nature, rather than being stuck behind a computer or tv all day.
Tara reflects and says that going through her personal struggle and channeling it through her garden has helped her develop a new vision for the world and mother nature, “My overall goal for the website is to show people how mother nature can get it done – without polluting – and inspiring people to use what they have.”
She gets serious for a moment and insists that it’s our duty to the earth to provide natural habitats for the animals and insects that human development is pushing further and further away, “With all the houses and apartments being built and the land being taken away from animals and insects, we need to create gardens since we’re monopolizing the whole planet.” Tara eases up and laughs saying, “I’m trying to get everyone just a little bit greener; They don’t have to be as green as my crazy backyard!”
When I ask Tara about the life lessons she has learned through the last five years in the garden, she is quick to respond with full clarity, “Life is a balance. You are not ever going to appreciate the good things in life if you don’t struggle through the bad and I found potential for what my life could be through my backyard: I can take things the good way or the bad way and I made the best of what I got. ”
And on the topic of dropping out of college, she admits that she has thoughts of going back and finishing her last year, but has no regrets, “When I left school, I didn’t leave horticulture.”
The future is bright according to Tara. With her family back on their feet, she plans to channel the success and popularity of her blog into a landscaping and consulting company with her husband. Their first job was last Thursday with a few projects lined up. Continuing the spirit of community and thrift, she’s organizing an event, inviting readers and the community to bring their plants for a swap meet. To find out more about Tara, TheGardeningMom, visit the website, connect on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.