Timothy Hammond empowers others through gardening
Words by Jennifer Stewart Kornegay
Photos by David Mejia
Timothy Hammond wears his passion for cultivating all kinds of plants, on his sleeve, in his business name—Big City Gardener—and even on his chest, with the “Just Grow It” T-shirt he’s often sporting in his Instagram photos (when he’s not posting pics of gorgeous veggies or easy-to-follow tip videos). Based in Houston, Texas, he’s made a career out of his love of gardening and his ability to share that love with others.
But it wasn’t always that way. Despite being bitten by the gardening bug early, he didn’t preach the gardening gospel until he was an adult. He went out of his way to hide his interest. “I’ve always been into gardening, since I was a kid, but I didn’t think my friends would think it was ‘cool,’ so I didn’t really talk about it much,” he says.
The “cool factor” may have stopped him from spreading the gardening love back then, but it didn’t bury his blossoming affection, which is rooted in his family. “Both of my parents are big into gardening,” he says. His curiosity flourished as they told stories of the bounty they grew in Jamaica, their native country. He never remembers a time when his backyard wasn’t home to timber-framed garden beds filled with countless green growing things.
He does remember the weekend trips he’d take with his dad to Houston nurseries to peruse plants and stock up for each season; they are some of his fondest. Other garden recollections are not as rosy, such as the reprimands he’d get when his enthusiasm pushed him to pick tomatoes too early. “I got in trouble for that,” he says.
Still, when it came time to pick a career path, he didn’t initially think about gardening. He was a part of several business ventures and found success but not fulfillment. “I was trying to figure out what to do with my life next, and a friend who knows my passion for gardening just repeatedly told me to do something I enjoy,” he says. When he became a father and began nurturing something beyond a patch of earth, his perspective shifted and led him to found Big City Gardener. “I have a young son, and I realized I wanted to be an example to him, to show him to follow his dreams and do what he loves, so I started a gardening business.”
In 2016, Big City Gardener began as an edible landscape company. Timothy would go to clients’ homes and set up herb and veggie gardens that looked pretty and yielded a yummy harvest. After a few jobs, he realized he still wasn’t doing what he truly wanted, so he pivoted. “I just want to reach as many people as possible and show them the multiple benefits of gardens and gardening,” he says.
Today, through Big City Gardener, Timothy educates others on why they should garden and teaches them how to do it, speaking to diverse groups all over Houston and engaging all ages with hands-on classes and workshops. He also offers advice and tips on his Big City Gardener blog and on his social media channels. He deems his work more inspiration than instruction. “Gardening is so therapeutic. It gets you outside and is a great way to unwind by focusing on a task,” he says. The relaxation it provides is part of the appeal for many, including Timothy. “People are searching for different ways to relieve stress, and they turn to yoga and all these things, but I’m saying, ‘Hey, gardening can do that too.’”
Gardening can be a solitary pursuit, and sometimes that’s an aspect of the serenity it offers. Yet Timothy’s also realized that gardening is fertile ground to forge connections. “I’ve had the best ideas and conversations standing in a garden talking, and my business has introduced me to a bunch of cool, like-minded people,” he says. “I’m so thankful for these opportunities that have come from gardening.”
He’s sprouting opportunities for others too, working with a nonprofit called the Inspired Learning Institute to adopt a garden in Houston that’s in a food desert. “We’re going to revitalize it and have gardening classes there for the community.” He’s also helping a Houston chef start a garden in another Houston food desert. The produce will supply a market for the neighborhood, increasing its residents’ access to fresh, healthy food.
Timothy stresses how satisfying and empowering it can be to grow your own food. “People have become so disconnected from food and where it comes from, what it looks like even. We need to change that,” he says. Putting your hands in dirt and coaxing sustenance from a seed or tiny plant is powerful. “It teaches but motivates too,” he says. But his gardening zeal is not limited to fruits and veggies. “I enjoy all gardening and want others to as well,” he says. “I use food as a gateway to broader gardening because people relate more to food.”
He also claims he can teach anyone how to garden, even those who don’t think they really care about it, and black thumbs whose past efforts have proven fatal to plants. He starts by getting to know each “student.” “I talk to people and find out what they like and then customize from there,” he says. There are a few universal topics in his lesson plan though. “I tell everyone to start small,” he says. “Maybe you just do something in a pot. You try with plants that have high survival rates, that need less maintenance.” Then, there are the basic rules that all gardeners abide by. Better soil equals better chances for success. Balanced watering is key. Timothy encourages beginners to think of themselves as plants. “You need enough water, but not too much,” he says. “I try to make it all relatable and easy, because it should be easy.”
His final words of gardening wisdom dig deep and apply to far more than gardening. “We have a tendency to make things harder than they need to be. We can psych ourselves out,” he says. “You have folks looking at these complex garden spreads in a magazine and thinking, ‘I have to do it just like that to do it right.’ But you don’t watch a professional sports team and say, I want to play sports and I have to play at that level.’ Garden at your pace; garden for you.” And according to Timothy, gardening is a continual learning process, one you’ll never truly master. But perfection is not the point. “You will always learn something new,” he says. “As the plants in your garden grow and evolve, so will you.”