Lori Martinez may have spent 25 years as a manicurist, but these days she spends lots of time getting dirt under her nails. That’s because she traded in her emery boards for gardening tools about six years ago when she started Backyard Produce, her edible garden business.
“I just wanted to start doing something else,” the East Dallas resident says of her rather successful — and sudden — career change. She had been working on her own garden and showed some pictures of it to one of her manicure clients, Cindy Rachofsky, who lives in Preston Hollow area with her husband, Howard. “She said, ‘I want a garden,’ “Martinez recalls. “First I did 15 pots, then I did the whole backyard.” The Rachofskys, who are prominent Dallas art collectors and philanthropists, were thrilled and quickly spread the word. Martinez’s business took off from there — so quickly that, she says, “practically overnight I was having to say no.”
With Backyard Produce, Martinez designs, installs and maintains gardens, mostly in raised beds, that provide their owners with a variety of organic vegetables. She also does consulting for DIY gardeners. Martinez’s specialization in edible gardens came about organically, so to speak. Gardening had been her hobby for years, but when she started working for others, she found out they wanted to grow their own food. “Before, I had very few vegetables,” she says. She taught herself through experimentation, by using internet resources, and by talking to her gardener friends. But mostly, she says, “I just keep working at it until it works out.”
So what grows best in the Texas heat? “Everyone wants tomatoes,” Martinez says, “But the biggest surprise is that fall and winter gardens are the most successful.” In the fall, she says, “there’s every lettuce you can think of. There’s no reason to buy it. Also broccoli, kale, spinach — big, green leafy things — and root vegetables do well.” She says asparagus is another vegetable that loves the Dallas climate. “You don’t have to do anything,” she says. “If you never wanted to touch it, it would come back.”
Most of Martinez’s clients are in the Park Cities/Preston Hollow area, with one on Swiss Avenue. Her clients “are very healthy — they eat every single thing out there. If they don’t get to eat it, they’ll juice it.” Several of them have chicken coops, too. Martinez highly recommends chickens:
“They have great personalities, and they’re easier than cats and dogs,” she says. Her husband, Trini, designs and builds the coops in his free time.
Martinez is thrilled with her success, even though the isolation of gardening can be lonely for a person whose previous job was so social. “But when I put [the gardens] in, I grab everyone I know to help,” she says. That includes friends and her three children — two teenagers and a 7-year-old.
Martinez feels extremely lucky that she was able to make the transition to gardener so successfully. She says that without the help of her generous clients, she couldn’t have done it: “The good part of my story is that these people just trusted in me.”
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