As I’m creeping down the street agonizingly slowly, checking house numbers, my phone’s navigation loudly announces: “You have arrived.” Eyes narrowed, neck craned, I’m searching for a house number, and I briefly catch a glimpse of it before the wall of shrubs and trees obscures my view of the little house. I can just make out a small-framed person stooped behind the shrubs, undoubtedly performing some gardening task.
“This must be it,” I think to myself. I park, gather my effects and start the quick walk across the street. A hand pops up above the shrubs and waves, then Julia Ossa, Wyoming Gardener Extraordinaire, emerges from behind the greenery wall and calls out her greeting.
She invites me into her “Room Garden,” as she explained it later. It’s the area in her front yard, completely devoid of grass, that her shrubbery along the front creates. There are flowers blooming everywhere.
We move into the house, where nearly every surface sports multiple pots with large, healthy plants and jars with cuttings rooting in them. Her green thumb is immediately apparent, and as mine is just in its infancy, I am instantly envious.
As we sit down at her cozy kitchen table with hot tea in hand and her green plants all around, I’m instantly comfortable and curious about her. She freely talks about her history and what makes her the person she is today.
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Ossa was born in Bonn, Germany and emigrated as a baby with her family to the United States where they began their American lives in New York. The family would also live in Tennessee, California and Washington before coming to live in Wyoming.
Growing up with farming grandparents in Tennessee and a commercial artist father made for an eclectic childhood that Ossa remembers with fondness.
“Everything I love in my life I learned from them [her grandparents],” said Ossa. “They were just the coolest people. I spent many, many summers with them in Tennessee. They always had a place out in the country. Grandaddy would build a house, plant a vegetable and flower garden. He never made me weed anything.”
Her current garden reflects her early experiences in Tennessee where she grows flowers and vegetables in the same space. Her childhood experience in the summers were that you grew what you ate.
“Everyday Grandmother would say: ‘You have to go out and pick out what you want for dinner’,” she said. “It just made it fun.”
Her family’s adventures would carry her far and wide in America, but it wasn’t until she was an adult that she got back to her family’s farming and self-sufficient roots.
In the early 80s in Casper, Ossa began her own gardening journey with little to no first-hand experience.
I had never really gardened before, said Ossa. I did a lot of research, read a lot of books in the winter, amended soil, built raised beds, built water systems and learned how to make compost and compost systems. I learned as I went.
Efforts paid off and she and her husband at the time grew much of what they ate in a garden that they had build from a rundown plot of land in Downtown Casper.
Little did Ossa know at the time that her trials and errors, research and hard work would prove to be the start to her influence in the Western gardening community.
When the editor of Sunset Magazine took notice of the efforts Ossa put into her Garden she was shocked. The editor visited and was impressed with what he saw. He wanted to feature it in the Magazine.
Around the same time Ossa was working as the head designer of the Special Services Department of the Casper Star Tribune and when asked for ideas for special sections for the newspaper, naturally she gravitated to gardening.
While looking for writers for her section on organic gardening, she found it hard to locate many who were practicing strictly organic gardening, which was and 35 years later still is, a passion of hers. Many of the photos for the section were of her garden and she ended up writing several of the articles, along with the few other organic gardeners in town at the time. The section ended up being the biggest selling tabloid they had ever had at the Tribune, according to Ossa. “It was great!” she said.
Her current garden in Paradise Valley is a functional garden. It provides privacy for her residence, since Ossa isn’t really used to “living in Suburbia,” she said. It also provides the flowers she uses for a florist business she runs at local farmers markets.
In addition to being featured in Sunset Magazine, Julia has written for Zone4 and Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazines and we’re very pleased to welcome Julia Ossa to our West Winds Magazine family where she will be our expert on all things gardening. Stay tuned for new articles from Julia about gardening in the west and our new gardening section right here at West Winds Magazine Online.