If you came of age in the '80s and '90s, actress Tiffani Thiessen likely holds a nostalgic place in your heart. Thiessen played popular girl Kelly Kapowski on NBC's high school sitcom Saved by the Bell, and her big hair and brightly-colored outfits spawned many teen male crushes and teen girl mood boards. Thiessen's career didn't stop there, and she went on to act in shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 and White Collar, plus she currently hosts the MTV program Deliciousness.
In addition to her onscreen roles, Thiessen is a domestic goddess of sorts. Her second cookbook, Here We Go Again (Pre-order from Amazon, $32), comes out later this year, and she recently partnered with the home improvement chain Lowe’s as part of a campaign centered on working in her garden. Below, Thiessen spoke to FIRST for Women about her passion for gardening and what lessons she's passing down to her kids.
Family as the key to acting and gardening.
Thiessen has been famous since she was a teenager — and because of Saved by the Bell, she is perhaps permanently cemented as a teen in the public's imagination, even well into her 40s. Despite this, Thiessen seems remarkably well-adjusted. "Being in front of the camera and having people watch you grow up can be daunting, but I credit my parents for having a down-to-earth outlook on it all," Thiessen says of becoming famous at a young age.
She also credits her parents for her lifelong love of cooking and gardening. Her dad, who worked as a landscape architect, “granted me my green thumb,” and her love of cooking came from her mom, aunt, and grandma. “It’s neat,” she says with a smile. “I’ve got two big sides of my passions from both my parents.”
Now 49, Thiessen has a 12-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, and she’s passing down the gardening lessons she learned in her own childhood to them. “I really love teaching my kids where food comes from and giving them those basic tools to understand that food comes from the ground and the sun and the water,” she says. Her kids have also seen some of their mom’s acting work; her daughter recently watched Saved by the Bell for the first time, but while she enjoyed it, she much preferred Thiessen's recent Netflix show Alexa & Katie. (“I, on the other hand, love all of the '80s and '90s and style that’s having a resurgence right now!” Thiessen professes of Saved by the Bell's nostalgic fashion impact).
Gardening as a form of stress relief.
Thiessen and her kids love nothing more than going outside and getting their hands dirty. The family garden has fruits, vegetables, avocado trees, and even chickens. She calls gardening her “creative outlet,” adding, “sometimes I get more out of cooking and gardening than I do acting. It’s a de-stressor, and business is not a de-stressor at all.” She finds watering her plants therapeutic, and when she’s in the kitchen cooking with ingredients that she's grown, Thiessen embraces the “artistic components” of making a meal, turning fresh ingredients into a tasty new dish.
Learning about food waste early.
Thiessen’s cookbook is all about the art of repurposing leftovers. This low-waste practice has been part of her life since childhood. As she recalls, “I grew up in a family where we didn’t have a ton of money. My mom was always trying to extend our food throughout the week and reinvent the things in the fridge. So my book is really a love letter to her and how I grew up.” Being resourceful in the kitchen isn’t merely practical — it also yields delicious results. Thiessen gives a classic example: “Say you have berries that are about to spoil — instead of putting them in the trash, why not use them to make some jam? They’ll last many more weeks in the fridge that way.” Plus, homemade jam is free of the artificial ingredients found in certain store-bought varieties.
Thiessen aims to give her kids the same level of awareness about food waste that she grew up with. She and her family practice composting, and she suggests using a compost bin that’s cute enough to leave on the counter to encourage saving your scraps. She also points out that eliminating food waste is a valuable way to reduce your environmental footprint and save money.
Tiffani Thiessen’s Home Garden Essentials
If you’re going to spend time cultivating your own garden this spring, you’ll want to make sure you have the right tools. Here are three of Thiessen’s favorites.
A cute pair of gloves. It’s important to protect your hands while gardening. After all, no one wants to get dirt lodged under their nails. Thiessen likes this durable yet surprisingly fashionable pink-and-green pair (Buy from Lowe’s, $5.98).
A sturdy watering can. There are many watering cans out there, but some of them are more aesthetic than functional. Thiessen says this Bloem watering can (Buy from Lowe’s $7.98) is just right for ensuring you don’t add too much or too little water.
A fake owl. A fake owl may sound strange, but it’s actually perfect for pest control. When placed in or near a tree, the fake owl (Buy from Lowe’s, $16.97) functions as a scarecrow, protecting your gorgeous fruits from hungry birds and other small animals.
Whether you’ve been gardening since childhood like Thiessen, or have only recently come to embrace it, there’s a lot of value to be found in communing with nature. Thiessen may not be the gardening guru you’d expect — especially if you grew up watching her roam the halls of Bayside High School — but her genuine enthusiasm for growing food and caring for the environment is a welcome source of inspiration.
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