For Dee Lamoreaux and Joyce Olson, it wouldn't be home unless there was a pile of dirt outside.
Theirs may not be the largest gardens along the Wasatch Front, but they are certainly among the most loved. The small patches of ground outside front doors where most folks plant a few pansies have been turned into little bits of paradise. And those little patches of ground, now filled with everything from garlic to foxglove to spinach, give Lamoreaux and Olson a sense of ownership, an investment, a chance to get their hands dirty and know that this place is home.The pair are neighbors at Valley Fair Village, public housing for senior citizens in West Valley City. The Housing Authority of Salt Lake County has always allowed and even encouraged residents to plant flowers or vegetables, said site supervisor Blair Parrish.
But few residents of the 650 units scattered across the county do it as well or as seriously as the folks at Valley Fair Village.
Lamoreaux, 66, a Korean War veteran who started farming at 13, has basil, dill, rosemary, peppers, spinach, tomatoes and more growing in a small patch of ground near his front door.
"We use every inch we got," Lamoreaux said. Last year, a stalk of corn even grew out of a crack in the sidewalk. "Three cobs, not many kernels on 'em, but that thing grew three cobs," he said.
On a scorching day, he'd just returned from changing the sprinklers on the other side of the complex, a job he enjoys. It reminds him of the years he grew alfalfa, changing dams day and night to keep his crops happy in arid Utah.
He has to keep active. And he could never live in the senior citizen high-rise where the garden is an elevator ride away. "I'd jump," he said.
Lamoreaux already harvested his first tomatoes, which he started in the housing authority's greenhouse at Valley Fair Village. The small greenhouse was built in 1995 so Parrish could grow the flowers needed for housing authority offices and complexes from seeds rather than paying full price for flowers every spring.
Parrish once spent about $1,000 a year on flowers. Today, the county buys only seeds, about $60 worth a year, said Dennis Kelsey, maintenance director.
If Lamoreaux is the vegetable and herb connoisseur of Valley Fair Village, then Joyce Olson is the flower diva. She not only transformed the spot near her front door, she took on a central area in the middle of her corner of the complex and transplanted her own Asian lilies, shasta daisies and blanket flowers there. The area is now full of purple, yellow and white petals. There is no set design, just the appearance of a dazzling wildflower patch in the middle of suburbia.
She's especially pleased about a little clump of ornamental grass. "That's all the thing these days," she said.
Olson, 72, who calls the hill country of Texas home, says gardening is "just something I have to do." When Parrish planted a tree in a common area, Olson bought landscaping wood and made a flower garden around it.
"You know how they say one person can make a difference," Kelsey said. "She's the one."
But the grandmother of two says gardening is just part of living, part of being one with a place.
"My dad used to love garden work and flowers. He was a great believer in keeping the dead blooms pinched off," said Olson, who now can't resist that daily urge to go out and pinch off dead blossoms. When she's not coaxing her garden, Olson usually makes her way to the Jordan River for her other love: fishing.
And last year, when she took a minute away from her foxglove, mini-roses and columbine, she built herself a patio. Today, the square cement blocks play host to pots of flowers waiting for Olson's touch.