Profile: Gentle Gardener George Gibbs
Gibbs, 58, has run his eponymous gardening and landscaping business in San Francisco since 1981, and he maintains 20 organic gardens throughout the city. Gibbs works with nature, and he doesn’t like to kill things, even bugs.
“When you grow things organically, you’re going to have to share it with nature,” he said.
It takes delving into the flora surrounding Gibbs’s 142-year-old house, swathed in Virginia creeper and flanked by a “spittin’ plum” tree, to appreciate his gardening ethos.
“Kind of an eco-gingerbread house, I guess you’d call it,” Gibbs said. He laughed. As for the tree: A bird ate a plum, excreted the pit, and later out comes a tree. And so, a “spittin’ plum.”
Gibbs introduces a few of his backyard’s myriad green beings, explaining which plants are which, that plants have moods, and that, like people, they need an environment to be just right in order to flourish. Gibbs talks and runs his fingers along one of his crocosmias like it’s a cat’s tail. The plant's alive — it just won’t purr.
Asking him why organic gardening matters feels silly. Gibbs looks confused.
“Why would you want to buy something that’s coated in poison?” He said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
"Sense” keeps coming up. Gibbs plants based on each microclimate, because one place half a mile up or down a hill is very different from another. In all his gardens, Gibbs works with or around the creatures and critters passing through — herding some to work here and others to play there. His work and his life centers on “that whole ripple effect of creating a more conscious world of how interconnected we all are. It makes simple sense, if you think about it.”
Later, conversation turns to Gibbs’s Sierra Club membership, his recreational contra dancing and his recent speaking engagements — for the Gay Buddhist Fellowship, for one of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society’s weekly raw dinners, for an ICD-user group.
Gibbs’ own implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) pokes out of his chest when he leans back. Heart issues run in the family. Gibbs controls this weakness by surrendering to everything else. He practices yoga, dances often, participates in at least half-a-dozen nonprofits and social groups. He talks freely, smiling often, making eye contact.
“I want to be healthy. I want to be in a healthy place. I want my family and friends to live on a healthy, happy planet, not a toxic waste dump... You just think it makes sense.”
Check back each day this week for tips based on Gibbs’s gardening sense.
Mackenzie Mount is an editorial intern at Sierra. She's cleaned toilets at Yellowstone National Park and studied sustainable cooking at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas.
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