Suburban, New Jersey (zone 7b)
Meet Nichollette Shorts, the woman behind Broadwaygardener. Nichollette is an avid backyard gardener who recently uprooted her small backyard garden in Brooklyn, NY and moved with her partner to a home in the small community of Union Township, New Jersey. For Nichollette, moving out of the city wasn't high on her priority list because her job as an actress has her constantly hopping around the five boroughs for auditions, but her partner dreamed of more space, lower cost of living and a quieter existence.
"Honestly, I thought I’d stay in the city forever, I LOVE the hustle. Originally I thought we would just move to another apartment. But with two huge dogs, city prices, and a partner that was looking for a quiet life, another apartment didn’t seem right. We made a compromise that I would move out of New York if I could still get to the city in under an hour, and if I could get a huge space for a garden. So we basically set our Zillow settings to the price, distance, and lot size and went from there. We didn’t really have a clear idea of where we were going until we got here."
Nichollette advises people considering leaving the conveniences of city life to really consider how their move will effect their daily routines.
If you're leaving the city, really think about what that means for your day to day life. The biggest adjustment for me was adjusting to public transportation. In NY the trains come every few minutes. Here its a 20 minute walk to the only train in town and it comes once every hour. My greatest advice would be to really think about what you want your day to day life to look like, and how can you achieve that within your budget.
Nichollette and her partner moved to New Jersey in December of 2019. A major selling feature of their new home was the overgrown and neglected lot it sat upon. Nichollette instantly saw the potential and was excited to be able to expand her growing spaces and have more room to grow both edible and non-edible plants. The hardest part of their move was deciding what plants to dig up from their Brooklyn allotment and move with them to New Jersey. Once they moved, she immediately began making plans for tackling the outdoor spaces - transforming the tangled lot into a serene and productive growing haven.
Covid hit right after Nichollette and her partner finished unpacking. It has made it challenging to feel at home in their new community because they really haven't had much of an opportunity to meet their neighbors and participate in community events.
"I’d like to give my new community the benefit of the doubt, because it's a pandemic, and we haven’t lived here long. We’ve met most of our neighbors and they’ve been wonderful, and I found a farmers market that I really enjoy visiting. But I think I will always miss Brooklyn, and the community I had there. Not only did I know my neighbors, but everyone knows everyone. The store owners, ice cream man, and crossing guard, they all felt like family. I'm hoping once this pandemic lifts a bit then I can find that feeling here too."
Nichollette's career acting opportunities have slowed since Covid and although it has been stressful, she feels so grateful to have the tranquility and extra space.
"I like how quiet it is at night here. I’ve always liked to sit outside with a beverage or a book, and its so peaceful here. I forgot what it was like to hear uninterrupted sound of nature. Unfortunately, I think it's hard not to feel at least a little stressed during these uncertain times. Due to the fact that I work in the city, my career is at a bit of a stand still at the moment. The fact that we moved to such a peaceful area is something I am extremely grateful for. I have a new found sense of relaxation in the garden that surprised me. Especially early in the morning when everything is quiet except for the birds, which is a welcomed change from the sounds of the city.
Nichollette has channelled her energy and extra time into gardening and it has helped keep her busy during this very difficult time. The biggest challenge she has had to navigate while building her new garden, has been poor soil health. She has had to make significant amendments to keep her plants thriving. She is also battling with an army of hungry little creatures that have been nibbling on everything she puts in the ground. Despite these difficulties, she has made real progress in the last few months and has been enjoying the fruits and veggies of her labor all summer long.
"I am happy to have the ability to plant more beautiful shrubs in the ground here rather than in containers. I had a simple setup of containers and raised beds in Brooklyn, and grew a bit in the ground as well. I was shocked to discover how extremely bad the soil is here at our new home, which has been one of my biggest challenges. Alongside horrible soil, I am convinced the wildlife has a vendetta against me. They are treating my garden like a buffet."
In addition to her bountiful harvest of fresh food, Nichollette has been planting all sorts of blooms to cheer up her outdoor space.
"Honestly, I love anything with a pink bloom. I’ve been focused on gladiolus lately, as I LOVE the variety of colors you can get on a big bold bloom. Come fall I put a tulip bulb anywhere I can fit one. I think its safe to say Im obsessed with spring color. I also believe, what is a garden without sunflowers?"
For Nichollette, a love and fascination of plants and nature was instilled at a young age by her family, but it wasn't until after she left home for college that she attempted growing her first backyard garden. It didn't take long though, until she was hooked.
"My Grandmother and Mother always had a tone of house plants, but I was more interested nature, animals, and how things grew outside. I remember countless times that I would eat my apple and then attempt to plant the seed in the ground. It wasn’t until I moved away to college in New York that I found myself missing nature. My family started to dabble in setting up a backyard garden while I was in college, and I’ve always been a little bit competitive. Hence, thats the year that I bought a blueberry bush and a tomato plant for my little backyard in Brooklyn, and it just took off from there."
There are quite a few items on Nichollette's endless garden "to do" list but at the moment she is working on building a space for her two dogs to run freely without destroying her plants.
"I have so many plans for the future. We are in the process of working out an enclosed dog run, where my dogs can play wildly without stepping all over my plants. One of my favorite future plans is a fireplace area in our back corner surrounded by a moon garden. I plan to heavily landscape the front of the house with formal hedging and have a front yard garden. I’ve already ordered some David Austin Roses to begin my rose garden. It's going to be quite sometime until things begin to take shape, but I can't wait to begin to see little changes here and there."
With acting opportunities still in limbo, Nichollette has begun sharing her gardening journey and growing knowledge with her social media following. It is a way to do two things she loves at the same time - gardening and performing. She wants to encourage all people, no matter how much space or money they have, to embark on their growing journey.
"I hope that my channel will showcase that you can achieve so much with hard work, patience, and without breaking the bank. There are so many Home & Garden channels sharing their amazing space with us, but the truth is not everyone can afford big expensive builds/projects to create that space. I truly believe that there is an unmeasurable sense of pride when you put in the work and see your results flourish over time. I want to help people create a space they can relax in and find peace in, just as I have with my garden and new home. "
Thank you Nichollette for sharing your story with us!
You are a wealth of plant knowledge in your Youtube videos. Do you have a background in landscape design or agriculture?
I am an avid google-er. I research all day and all night when Im determined to figure something out. Reading gardening books and watching videos is something I truly enjoy, and I am not afraid of the trial and error method. I think I’ve learned the most by failing first.
With everything that has happened in 2020 do you feel like you made the right decision to leave or do you want to return to NYC in the future?
I go back and fourth with this thought quite often actually. Part of me realizes and appreciates having my own (much larger) space to quarantine in. There was no way to predict what was about to happen back in December when we moved, but it's definitely been challenging. I think it would have definitely been a lot easier for me to have stayed in the city, because it's familiar to me. We were at an affordable place with utilities included, and I felt like I was part of a community. Moving here, leaving my friends, and then basically going into a lockdown was A LOT of change at one time. I expected to have new financial responsibilities that come with owning a home, but I NEVER expected to do it, without a job, feeling isolated with no real community or support system.
How are you navigating auditions and acting opportunities in during Covid?
I'm still extremely focused on my acting career, but at the moment it's come to a very defined halt. Auditions and rehearsals have basically been non existent until recently, and now it seems we’re all just trying to find a way to navigate towards a new normal. I'm lucky enough to still be working with Darkness Rising Project at the moment, as the album was already finished recording, so we’ve been able to do a lot of online releases, and virtual concerts.
Have you noticed a change in yourself since leaving the city? (stress, health, happiness, etc.)
Unfortunately, I think it's hard not to feel at least a little stressed during these uncertain times. Due to the fact that I work in the city, my career is at a bit of a stand still at the moment. The fact that we moved to such a peaceful area is something I am extremely grateful for. I have a new found sense of relaxation in the garden that surprised me. Especially early in the morning when everything is quiet except for the birds, which is a welcomed change from the sounds of the city.
What are the main obstacles standing in the way for gardeners just starting out? Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start their first garden but doesn’t know where to begin?
I think the biggest obstacles are pest and disease. In the beginning it can be really difficult to identify whats going wrong with your plant. I encourage you to not give up, do the research, and ask for help. The best thing you can do as a beginner is expect to have losses, and stay determined to grow from them.
Are there any crops, varieties, etc. that you specifically love to work with?
I am a real squash lover!!! I know squash bugs and vine borers are everyones biggest enemies, but I still have an unhealthy addiction to squash. I love to grow as many winter squash as I can, because theres something about wheeling a cart around the garden and harvesting pumpkins and squash that really makes fall the best time of year. Sunflowers and Zinnias are also a garden MUST for me.
Are there any crops that you have a hard time growing in your 7b growing zone?
Brassicas!!! They are so hit or miss for me. Sometimes the spring stays cool enough to form big beautiful heads, and sometimes they bolt so quickly. Not to mention the cabbage moths! Growing brassicas in the fall gives me a better chance of success, but it's just one of those crops that I cant seem to grow consistently.
Do you have any suggestions for creative material reuses to extend your growing spaces and/or growing season?
My suggestion is, use everything you can get your hands on. Cardboard to smoother weeds. Old fencing or cattle panels to grow vining crops. Keep all those leaves and grass clippings, especially if you’re a container gardener because potting soil can get pretty expensive. I like to fill my containers half way with composted grass clippings and leaves, and the rest of the way with premium potting soil.
Do you have any books, podcasts, channels, websites, etc. that you would recommend to people wanting grow their own food and become more sustainable and self-sufficient?
I found the documentary The Biggest Little Farm so inspiring. It showed farming/gardening on a large scale, but showed an important process of using the natural benefits of nature to address gardening problems. As a beginner, the show Grow, Cook, Eat on Amazon was EXTREMELY helpful. CaliKim on Youtube is a great source for backyard and container gardening.
Do you have any favorite recipes for your freshly harvested produce that you would be willing to share?
I wish! I tend to throw things together with zero idea how the meal will turn out. Zoodels, BLT’s, Ratatouille, and eggplant parmesan are my go-to’s. But sometimes I take a picture of my harvest, send it to my friends, and ask them what I can make.
Aside from growing your own food, what other ways do you practice self-sufficiency?
Along with growing my own food, I’ve found ways to collect rainwater for the garden and practice composting. Something a lot of people don’t know about me is I really enjoy crocheting and sewing. I like to alter and transform my clothes, and I’ve started making my own soaps, lotions, and hair products. Even though my partner thinks I’m a bit of a pack rat, I try to repurpose almost everything.