You’d think I’d have named it by now, but I never really thought about it.
I bought the 1988 Ford 150 from my dad who had put just over 50,000 miles on it. Since then I’ve racked up over 300,000 miles, and, in spite of being on its third engine, it still runs like a top (it’s a Ford, right?). And its antique vehicle registration means road tax days are over for good.
Amazing thing is, for the past thirty years – since my now-grown son was still in a child restraint seat – it has “piggybacked” a diminutive but productive traveling potager garden overstuffed with flowers, herbs, and vegetables. That’s right, the truck has a working garden in the back!
I started it out from frustration with one too many people whining about not having a place to garden. Thinking “What’d be the hardest place, the acid test, to give it a go?” I decided to try it in the back of my pickup truck.
Making The Garden
First year, I slid a bag of potting soil up against the cab of my previous truck where there’s a relatively wind-free eddy, made some X-shaped slits, and tucked in three small plants – a pepper, a tomato, and a Madagascar periwinkle – and some slow-release fertilizer, and watered as needed.
I was pleased at how well the small “pillow” garden actually produced. Not great, but enough to prove the point: If I can grow stuff in the back of a truck, anyone can have a garden, nearly anywhere.
The next year I switched to a larger bale of potting soil and added ornamental sweet potatoes and basil. They worked. Every year since I have experimented with various plants, finding those that will take triple digit summer temperatures, winter freezes, and hurricane-strength winds. The latter I can easily prove with an official government document – a speeding ticket from the Louisiana Highway Patrol for doing 81 m.p.h. in a 65 zone. Needless to say, I don’t have trouble with insects!
Ironic, isn’t it, for a fella who started a relaxed movement called Slow Gardening!
After moving into my dad’s truck I stuck with the project, but had a rust-proof metal box custom-crafted that, for better aerodynamics, slopes a bit towards the tailgate, with small terrace boards to keep the soil from slumping. Drainage holes on the rear allow water to drain away from rather than under the garden; a rubber bed liner further prevents rust.
My potting soil includes a crucial “green roof” material – kitty litter-size heat-expanded slate, which helps with drainage and aeration for deeper root growth, and reduces weight to help with gas mileage. I fertilize very lightly with timed-release Osmocote® beads, and water as needed – rarely more than every couple of weeks in the summer, if that often.
After decades of failing miserably with countless hapless plants (thinking about adding a small compost pile to one side of my planter box), I’ve settled on a surprising palette that survive the harsh conditions with at most a little foliage burn. Nobody takes care of the garden when I’m in my English summer and winter home for weeks or months on end, so I’m usually on pins to see what survives on rainfall alone and no protection from cold.
The garden hosts short, small-leaf shrubs including dwarf Nandina, rosemary, and groundcover juniper; cold-hardy dwarf Agave Lophantha and edible-leaf spineless Opuntia cactus; hardy perennials such as variegated Liriope, ‘Powis Castle’ Artemisia, golden moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), short but floriferous ‘Tete a Tete’ Narcissus, my great-grandmother’s compact Iris (mostly for its sturdy foliage), ‘Clara Curtis’ garden mum, chives, cascading oregano, and the white-foliage dusty miller.
I use annuals for year-round production. Every Autumn I replace spring-planted basils, sweet potatoes, periwinkle, hot peppers, self-cleaning Profusion zinnias, and sturdy Angelonia with cold-hardy pansies, violas, snapdragons, and several colorful and nutritious kales – especially the deep purple kinds and blue-green Tuscan kale (lacinato).
There are others, of course, but these are my mainstays for low maintenance, weather and wind tolerance, and food value. I’ve even photographed butterflies and bees in this mobile pollinator garden!
Last, but not least, I tend to over-accessorize the truck garden. There are sideboards made of salvaged registration plates (“car tags” where I live) wrapped around wooden runners, a gardenesque bird house and cheery antique gnome, a silver eagle hood ornament from England, and a pair of custom-crafted metal “bottle tree” sconces. And, ironically, a small Slow Gardening sign. Oh, and of course my dashboard hula girl.
I’m not the only truck gardener. But I’m pretty sure mine has the most miles on it, after being driven from West Texas to South Florida, and to Minnesota, Vermont Michigan, and literally everywhere in between – 34 states and counting.
Stolen, Recovered, Refurbished
Shortly after some errant young men stole my truck, police had no problem quickly recovering it (As one officer put it, “We all recognize your truck, Mr. Rushing.”), and a local community college auto repair instructor had his students take it on as a project. With its newly-rebuild body and paint job (check out the short video here), I expect lots more mileage out of my traveling garden. After all, because so many lecture requests include a hopeful “are you driving your truck garden?” I’m beginning to think more people like the truck’s garden than they do ME!
Meanwhile if worst comes to worst and my truck sets me down on the side of the road, while waiting for AAA to come rescue us I have enough vegetables and culinary herbs to eat road kill!
My daughter Zoe, who renders paintings of pets and people and is collaborating with me on a book about classic heirloom “passalong” plants and vernacular yard art, contributed this whimsical take on my truck:
And my artist friend Elaine Maisel created this incredibly detailed rendering of the truck… and me (and yeah, I often FEEL like an old bird).