A Quiet Evening in the Garden with Mrs. Li

May 7, 2022
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“Who is suffering? If it’s not our generation, it’s our next generation.” 

These are the wise words of Cuiling Li, a 55-year-old Bethesda gardener. We were able to venture into her garden to discuss her work, the gardening community, and the importance of environmental sustainability.  

What is your primary role here? How are you connected to the county?  

I’m an all-year round gardener. I use compost bins from the county, putting in my food scraps and dried leaves from the fall. I use the finished soil for my garden! The county doesn’t have to collect much food waste or recycling from me. I’m also involved in the Montgomery County gardening community and attend county-wide events like Earth Day celebrations. I’m eager to help my friends and others in my community who are interested in gardening or need help getting started!

How long have you been in Montgomery County?  

I’ve been in Bethesda since 1999, so almost 23 years.

What’s your favorite part of gardening/farming?  

“Spending long hours here, I don’t have to see a psychiatrist.”  

I like being by myself with my plants. Hours can just pass by, and in the garden, it’ll feel like minutes.

It’s also always great to see so many different people come to my garden, asking about what I do. Especially the little kids, it means a lot to be able to give them a piece of what is dear to me, knowing that it will become dear to them. I like giving them herbs, like clippings of basil.

What types of plants/vegetables do you grow here?  

I usually grow pumpkin, cucumbers, purple beans, squash, and cherry tomatoes on bamboo sticks, increasing their harvest while saving space. I also grow herbs that I use in my cooking, like thyme, basil, and mint.

I grow flowers like canterbury bells, easter lilies, and snapdragons. I look forward to when they bloom throughout the year because of their beauty.

How do you incorporate composting into your garden? 

I use the nutrient-rich compost created from the food scraps in my kitchen and dried leaves to nurture my garden. I usually mix this with some potting soil. I balance out the soil with substances such as potassium to suit my plants, as I don’t like using fertilizers. The run-off can go off into different bodies of water, making it undrinkable.

I also have a make-shift system I set up that helps me drain water from my garden. This lets me collect excess water from the rain. I get to use this in the garden too.

What are different ways that you work to conserve energy? How do you promote environmental sustainability with your gardening?  

Composting and remaining conscious of natural materials. This saves me energy and resources, but there’s always more to do. I try my best to educate my friends and others in my community about gardening and sustainability. However, some don’t realize how important it is to start acting now, so it can be frustrating. The impact we are collectively making now may not seem like it will affect us in our lifetimes, but we must think far ahead.

“If everybody does it, there’s still a chance to fix it.”  

Blog post by Feh Gana, Montgomery County Climate Intern Summer 2022 

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