Vegetable Garden, my Vegetable Garden

I'm in love with this picture. It just evokes everything that I wanted my vegetable garden to be.  

Back in 2004, the March garden issue of Martha Stewart had this amazing article called "Vegetables, Beautiful Vegetables," and it featured the gardens of Nancy Heckler, who lives in western Washington.  

At the time, we were living in this house just 4 months. When we moved here, there wasn't a flower to be found on the property, let alone a space for a vegetable garden. But I tore out the article and saved it, for now I had a vision. Heckler's garden combined vegetables and flowers in ways I never thought possible.  

The article, unfortunately, isn't archived anywhere online so I just have to describe the raised beds filled with stunning combinations: a line of yellow swiss chard backed by clumps of orange and red dahlias. A cedar arbor in the center of the garden covered with scarlet runner beans. Purple kale growing around bright green romanesco cauliflower. Marigolds clumped at the base of tomato plants.  

Some flower-vegetable combinations had function as well as form:  Heckler grows lupines among her broccoli, because broccoli is a heavy eater and depletes the soil of nitrogen, but lupines are of the legume family and their roots actually set nitrogen into the ground. Talk about a match made in heaven.

It became my dream to have a vegetable garden that was beautiful to look at and full of whimsical touches. Like any garden, it will always be a work in progress, but I am closer to where I want to be, and I walk through here every day, four or five times a day, and it always brings me joy.  

Come take a walk with me.  I love how you can actually walk through this garden, in one gate and out the other. I found the dragonfly at at Homegoods. There were two in the wall art section and I brought one to the register. As the cashier was ringing me up, I thought aloud, "Maybe I should get the other." The cashier didn't miss a beat, winked at me and said, "Get the other." So I did and that's why there's one on each gate.

This climbing rose "Zepherine Drouhin" is coming into bloom, and a bright pink clematis grows around it (soybeans are growing in the bed, another nitrogen-fixer). I used to have this gorgeous purple clematis at one of the garden gates but when we re-did the fence this year, I had to move it. And it died. I wasn't expecting this pink one to bloom this year, but maybe it felt bad for me.

A lot of my roses live inside the vegetable garden otherwise they get mauled by deer, rabbit, woodchucks, and lord knows what else. The Zepherine climbs up this copper structure that Jeeps built when we had the intent of growing our tomatoes upside-down. We snubbed the "Topsy-Turvy" planters hawked on TV and made our own out of gallon-containers of Poland Spring water and some ingenuity. Two seasons I attempted to grow cherry tomatoes this way, with thoroughly mediocre results. Last year I just grew flowers in them and found it to be too high-maintenance with the extra watering needed. So to hell with that, I put a board across the middle poles and turned it into a potting bench. It also makes a shady area underneath to grow lettuce and shelter young seedlings.

So the pathways between the beds are finally mulched, courtesy of the swamp maple we had cut down and chipped up couple months ago—there's a 50-Advil weekend.  The garden beds all get a shot from the compost pile, and then I mulch the plants with dead leaves. We have woods on 3 sides of the property so there's never any shortage of those. When Jeeps starts bagging the clippings when he mows the lawn, I add those to the beds, too.


This bed has my heirloom tomato plants at the back, basil and parsley, then a row of fennel and a row of arugula.  The standing container has cherry tomatoes (which I really need to cage), and other herbs in pots...

This is my broccoli bed.  Remember it had radishes outlining the plants? Well we ate those, thank you for your kind service. So now the broccoli is mulched with leaves and has another row of fennel fronting it, just WAITING for slaw!!! 

And of course, my birdhouses. When we were re-doing the fence posts, I first thought some kind of decorative filial on the top of each one would look cool. Then in a flash of insight, I thought about birdhouses. Three weekends of painting and three cans of acrylic spray later, I have one on nearly every post. I just love them so much.

They were meant to be purely decorative. The garden is right off the driveway and turnaround, and of course I'm traipsing in and out of there a dozen times a day. I figured they were way too close to human traffic to be inhabited. But what a surprise this weekend to see increased bird activity around the houses, and I can confirm this orange one is definitely occupied:

So other than the flowers, some herbs and some salad greens, the only other crop approaching harvest are the peas. "Crop" is an extremely generous term. I had three beds full of them, growing along with my tulips, but when the Vole Family invaded, they not only ate all the tulip bulbs, but their burrowing destroyed most of the peas, too. Really discouraging. I'm down to one decently-filled pea bed, and then two pathetic crops on either side.  Peas rarely make it from garden to table around here. The kids usually snack right off the vine. That's fine with me but just once I'd like to pick enough peas to be able to sit on my front porch and shell them, and then steam them lightly and serve with butter, salt and pepper. Someday...

Spring Seedlings

It really is ridiculous how happy I am having fresh herbs to cook with again. And I am days away from a first salad harvest from the garden. What's that, you'd like a tour? I'd be delighted. It's still all babies and I need to mulch it as soon as Jeeps can give me grass clippings. But anyway, come along and look.

Spinach and radishes on the left. Carrots on the right, which need thinning, which is an OCD job I loathe, but it's the nature of the beast.  

Next bed over, I'm growing fennel. Fennel fennel fennel, I planted like 24 bulbs of it. LOVE fennel. Last night I sauteed chicken sausage with red onions, yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes and zucchini. And right at the end I ran out, clipped off a bunch of feathery fennel tops, clipped another bunch of fresh parsley, chopped it all up and stirred it in. There wasn't a scrap left.

On the right are broccoli seedlings surrounded by radishes. I companion-plant whenever possible, and I read that these two go well together. So I made a grid of radish seeds and planted the broccoli inside the boxes. On the other hand, the same source said, rather vehemently, not to companion-plant fennel with ANYTHING. So if the whole garden should fail, we all know why.

Pea plants are starting to climb. Nearly a third of this crop, which was planted near the tulips, was wiped out by a vicious pack of voles. We've declared war with bait and snap traps. Killed five of them in one day. And I enjoyed it.

For dinner tonight we were having burgers on the grill, but on the side I sauteed red onion and garlic in olive oil, then added a can of drained, rinsed cannelini beans and let it cook on low about ten minutes. Then I added half a bag of baby spinach and some chopped parsley. I'm kind of a parsley whore.

Bouquet by Panda. I love handing her scissors and a mason jar and saying, "Pick something for the table." Usually she just has at it, but tonight I did give specific direction because my columbines are in bloom, and these purple ones look pretty with the chartreuse leaves of a golden bleeding heart. She arranged it beautifully though.

(Sigh)...I love spring.