My friend, Mary Ann, suggested I write more about the origins of my garden. My first thought was “Oh, no, I want it to be perfect and in bloom, and I don’t have any good pictures of it like that.” I wonder why. Could it be that gardens like everything else in life are never perfect? I revised my thinking. Ego aside, if I wanted to show structure, winter would be best.
My first country garden (in 1990) was a rectangle. It looked like everyone else’s garden space, efficiency with no style. Note: a rectangle isn’t very efficient anyway. Vegetables grown in straight rows don’t produce as much bounty.
Then I subscribed to Kitchen Gardener magazine. From the first issue, I felt like I’d finally met “my people.” People who grew beans up poles, and tried interesting vegetable varieties like Lemon cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes like ‘Cherokee Purple’ or ‘Arkansas Traveler.’ In their vegetable gardens, they had paths, tuteurs, and arbors. For the first time, I saw potagers like those I read about in 19th century literature. My excitement every other month could barely be contained.
You must understand. Everyone I knew who had a vegetable garden grew it solely for provisions. They grew the standard tomatoes, ‘Early Girl,’ for the first part of the season and Burpee’s ‘Big Boy’ or ‘Better Boy’ for their main season crop. They planted ‘Contender’ green beans because they made a lot, and they grew standard yellow squash, the same varieties every year. I was avant garde because I wanted to grow roses along with my vegetables. Although my neighbors didn’t understand my vision, they championed me for planting old garden roses. They hated to see the old girls die out, stationed in cemeteries guarding only the dead.
My favorite issue had an article, “A Kitchen Garden Built from Scratch.” When I saw the cover, I jumped up from my chair, ran across the room to HH, and begged him to create this garden for me. Because I’d quit my job to stay home with our kids, we were broke, so I knew it would need to be built with salvaged materials. After he studied the photographs, he handed the magazine back and said we could build it. And build it we did. This photo, labeled 1998, shows HH setting the second arbor. We traded out work with a welder friend for my first iron arbors, and I remember waiting a long time for them. From the corn behind HH, I don’t think we’d started on the new plan.
A couple of years after we built the first garden, I ran out of room, and HH added two rectangular beds at the end. We extended the fence. Then, I ran out of room again, so we built a mirror image of the first garden to the west of it and extended the fence again. On either side, there is a diamond in the center with four triangles surrounding it. I have grass paths between the raised beds, and stone paths which cut the diamonds in half. The stone paths were placed there to make the diamond more accessible. At the end of the geometric space, there are four long beds. In order to add some curvature to the space and to divide the rectangular beds, I am creating a curving stone path that connects the beds together visually. When we doubled the size of the garden, I really thought the expansion was finished. What do you think? Can you see a pattern of obsession here?
Dear Dee ~ thank you for writing Ch. 1 of your garden genesis….I will be thinking of you tomorrow when my organic soil mix gets dumped into the driveway (won’t that upset the Stepford Wives of my culdesac?)….ready to wheelbarrow around back to fill the raised beds! Your blog is really taking on a voice and spirit of person (you) and place (Oklahoma). I am secretly thrilled to know I was around at its nascent stage…..Do you feel like spring is on the horizon? I can’t wait to learn what you’ll be planting in the coming months…xoxdkp
Ooh, Debra, I am envious. New soil. New beginnings. No planting here yet. Not until late February, and then I’m taking a chance with the spinach and lettuces. Maybe you’ll profile your new garden adventure on your blog? Love the Stepford Wives reference. Thank you for all your ‘atta girls. It really helped and still does.~~Dee
This was so interesting! I love to read how gardens begin. Mine also started with a rectangle, but I have managed to soften the shape over the years. Coming from northeastern Oklahoma, names like Cherokee purple (I have grown them) and Arkansas Traveler made me a bit homesick!
I will be back to see what you are doing with the garden this spring, which will come so much sooner than ours.
That picture of your HH securing your arbor is sweet. I assume he’s not a gardener too? That makes it all the more touching that he studied the garden picture a few minutes and then declared he’d make one for you.
You don’t seem obsessed to me, by the way. Just perfectly normal. Maybe we’re all warped.
He is pretty sweet, and we’ve been married 18 years. As to obsessions, this one is pretty healthy compared to the others out there.~~Dee
Mary Ann says
Sistah Writah Gard’ner, You are so on track! I am tickled green! LOVE IT. And I will do the same. I am going to build my play house this spring and put big hip-high raised beds around it. Just can’t and don’t want to get down on my knees anymore.
I am insanely jealous of your split rail fence. I whined and cajoled for one at our family place in the mountains and no one heard me (maybe they ignored me?). I may just hire one installed and show them all.
I am looking forward to the entire and ongoing story of your kitchen garden. I ordered most all of the back issues from Taunton Press. I thought we should all write to them and plead for them to start it up again. Then I realized………………we are the ones to do the writing about kitchen gardens. So, keep up the good work. I’ll be handing out more assignments in the near future!!! 🙂
ps, I enjoyed the link to edible balcony.
Dear Girl, you are a hoot! I hope you enjoy the magazine. I sure did. HH and I have rebuilt that fence so many times I’ve lost count. It just seems to fit our house, it being a log cabin and all. I can’t wait for the Spring Fling. We’ll have so much fun.~~Dee
Not only is this an interesting blog entry with your usual good writing, but it shows so much intention in your approach to gardening.
My vegetable, herb and flower beds have come from holding a new plant in one hand and a shovel in the other. Or, a just-dug up plant and a shovel.
Then, I wander around looking for a place where the raw-rooted beauty will thrive.
I’m impressed – twice.
Martha, you are very kind. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wander all over the place holding pots of flowers or whatever trying to fit them into the landscape. Why do you think we’ve built so many gardens?~~Dee
Billy Goodnick says
Dee: You’re on a great roll! There’s nothing to prevent a productive food garden from also being a thing of beauty, even in the way you combine plants or aesthetic effect. I’m not sure if it’s still going, but about 10 years ago when we made frequent forays to the Disneyland, the had remade Tomorrowland with a completely edible landscape. Red-leaf lettuce juxtaposed with chartreuse foliage oregano – you get the idea.
I write a lot about the basic principles of strong aesthetic design and invite you to poke around for more ideas. I hope your spring garden is bountiful and a joy to behold. Add a mix of nectar-producing players and you’ve got your insectary mixed in at no extra charge!
Have fun and thanks for inspiring other gardeners.
Garden Wise Guy (Santa Barbara, CA)
Thanks for stopping by. Parts of the garden have been in place since 1999. I still grow quite a bit of food, although it is primarily a flower garden. I love all the creepy crawlies and the flying things which inhabit the place. We need them too, don’t we. Sadly, we were at Disney World last summer, and their Future World no longer has the edible landscape. I’d heard that it once did along with Disneyland. But, life is all about change. I think veggie gardening may again be on the upswing.~~Dee
I think it is difficult to garden and not let one obsession or another creep in, I think it all has something to do with the condition of gardening disease.
No cure though, thats the problem.
Cheers to you, too, Mark. I think the healthy obsessions are O.K. No one is going hungry at our house due to mine, and yours (photography) makes the world a better place. Who wants to be cured?~~Dee
Wow your gardens progression sounds a lot like my tiny space. We have moved the fence only once because we ran
out of room completely. I have mixed heirloom veggies and antique roses along with butterfly food plants. I admit to
planting early girl tomatoe along with with several varieties of heirlooms. The early girl makes tomatoes to well to leave
it out. I enjoyed reading your post.
Yes, our gardens do sound similar. We must be sisters at heart. I have no problem with ‘Early Girl.’ I just like variety in my food. I love roses and squeeze them in anywhere I can. Thanks for coming by.~~Dee
Obsession? You’re asking the wrong crowd methinks.
Ohmygosh, I sure do love your split rail fence! I’ve wanted one for years, and your article and pictures encourage me. I’m gonna get me one when I get to Mobile!
Don’t we all want to present things when perfect– well, if we wait we never will. I’m so glad you showed reality, and it is beautiful.
Love you, honey-bunny.
I thought you’d get a kick out of the perfection model. I keep seeing a white picket fence in Mobile, Sister.~~Dee
Great post! Thanks for sharing the evolution of your garden. I think a lot of us gardeners can relate to your story.
Thanks, Chris. I will probably share more. There’s more garden too. I’m also thinking about digging up the front yard; part of it at least.~~Dee
Oh, wow, Dee, I’m gonna come back and read this again. This is really inspiring! Thank you for sharing the nuts and bolts of what it takes. I hope you share in more detail some of those individual steps and winter is probably a great time for this. [I came through blotanical door, btw, so this should bump you up in line! :)]
Thanks, Kathryn. I’ll probably write more about how it evolved. There’s also more garden. As we had more money, and I became more involved in gardening, HH did more designing for me. He’s a peach, and I’m lucky he’s good at hardscape. Thanks for the Blotanical nod. I’m trying to fave and go to all my garden blogging friends that way too.~~Dee
If you’re obsessed, then so am I. Last year, I thought maybe I was done digging new gardens. I mean, I AM 50 years old now. LOL. But I’m already wanting to expand in the spring. I want to grow my corn rows in an ‘S’ shape. Gotta have more garden room to do that.
Kylee, I can’t wait to see the corn grown in an “s” shape. That will be so cool. I’m 45, and I’m still planning new stuff. Keeps us young.~~Dee
Obsession? Maybe just a little…
I have all the old issues of Kitchen Gardener. It was a sad day when they stopped publishing that magazine.
Carol, I nearly cried when they sent the notice. It was a great magazine. I threw away my old copies in a fit of purging one year. I could kick myself.~~Dee