Sunday, January 17, 2010

08. Garden Art

There is a thin line between garden art and junk, yet there is no doubt it's a personal matter. One of my favorite garden designers is Tara Dillard, who follows the European garden trends and knows just the right color blue/green to paint the patio furniture, or the latest on pillar candles for outdoor lighting. When tempted by a giant toad for the boggy end of the garden or a glass mushroom to tuck under a hosta, I follow her advice "Choose object d'art that your kids will fight over when you are gone." In other words, make it special. Gardens produce memories, and what I place in my garden is usually sentimental as well as beautiful.

Kitchen Garden Tip #8: Visit antique stores in search of garden art to decorate your garden. A few well placed garden divas are a good reminder that they are always ready to offer inspiration.

Friday, January 15, 2010

07. Creating Boundaries

If it weren't for Bella, I might not get out everyday for a walk. She's pretty darn good at reminding me that it's time to stop work and get into the woods. I picked her out of a litter of eight, on a dairy farm in northern Vermont. She's a blue healer/blue tick hound cross, and can catch a Frisbee as high as 6 feet in the air. When she came to live me, it was the day after Country Gardens had sent a crew to photograph my gardens, and I had spent weeks planting and primping the garden. The timing was perfect, since it took a single day with Bella to remind me that puppies and gardens don't mix. Learning boundaries is good for puppies, plants and people!

Kitchen Garden Tip #7: Create good boundaries for your garden with a fence, a natural arbor vitae hedge of a thick mass of flowers to indicate where the lawn ends and the garden begins. Mulch with bark, stepping stones or straw to indicate foot paths, which keeps the garden clear of traffic.

p.s. Bella did eventually learn about boundaries. Here she is as a one year old puppy, patiently waiting for me to put my garden rake down and throw her the Frisbee.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

06. Italian honey bees

I've been listening to my bee hive these days, putting my ear up to the hive for the buzz. Last fall, I wrapped the hive with several layers of Tyvex to keep out the wind, and since the colony was strong, I opted not to harvest any honey, yet instead left four supers for their winter feeding. Sadly, the hive seems silent. Italian bees are not as hardy as other breeds, yet what they lack in endurance, they give back in mild manners and honey production. I shoveled snow from around the entrance to the hive, yet to hedge my bets, I have ordered another colony to arrive on May 1st.

Kitchen Garden Tip #6: Order honey bees early to reserve a colony. I order from Betterbee in Greenwich, NY and pick up a small caged box in the spring with 10,000 bees and a queen.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

05. Cooking from the Garden

Kitchen Garden Tip #5: Mastering the art of cooking and gardening requires reading cookbooks that offer more than just recipes and digging deep into garden books that offer more than just pretty pictures...and then there is always more to learn.

For many years, I have been writing recipes for the seed catalog, The Cook's Garden that I co-founded in 1985, which resulted in my cookbook, From the Cook's Garden published in 2003 by HarperCollins. The book is no longer in print, so those of you who have a copy hold onto it! Illustrated by Mary Azarian, I am certain that admirers of her work have purchased the cookbook as much for the color woodcuts as for my recipes. Writing recipes is not as simple as filling out a little card to give to friends, yet requires precise measuring, analytical tasting, testing again and again, and then finally writing up the formula in a way that is easy to follow. Learning to cook is built on a solid foundation of knowing the basics: soups, salad dressing, bread baking and how to prepare meats and fish, and then letting go to be inspired by the ingredients. The same is true for gardening, once you know how to blend healthy soil, sow seeds and cultivate plants, it evolves into an activity that yields rewards that go beyond the feast of good food.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

04. Meet Ali

Last summer, Ali and I visited gardens together to take photos for my upcoming book. Her perspective is unique, and she is not afraid to climb high ladders if it results in a good shot. We were visiting Ilona Bell's kitchen garden in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a contained geometric design with arches covered in clematis vines. Ali found a ladder lying in the grass, set it up upright, and scaled to the top rung. Here's the photo she captured from that eagle's eye view.

Kitchen Garden Tip #4: Documenting the garden is the only way to truly capture a moment. Gardens change every day, every year, and in the dead of winter it is satisfying to look back on the colorful weave of plants from the not so distant past.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

03. Garden Events

Kitchen Garden Tip #3: Gardeners can always learn from other gardeners, and that's why I find inspiration during the winter at garden shows. I've signed up to to attend a few late winter and early spring garden conferences that are within a day's drive. Here's where you'll find me:

New England Grows (
Vermont Flower Show (
Perennially Yours(

Inspiration comes from many sources, and I'll admit that some of my best ideas come from other gardeners. One of my favorite ways to branch out to see other gardens is through the Garden Conservancy Open Days tours, held throughout the spring, summer and fall. America's finest private gardens are on display because the best way to learn about gardens and to appreciate them is to simply spend more time in them. Last year, I drove to Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York to see gardens, and while it took time away from my own garden, it was worthwhile to discover new plants, admire designs and meet other gardeners along the way. I've organized a tour in the Upper Valley of Vermont for June 26th, and there will be another tour in the Champlain Valley on June 19th.

Monday, January 4, 2010

02. Create Good Bones

Kitchen Garden Tip #2: Seed catalogs are flowing in, and flower seeds are always the first to go on my wish list. Night blooming Datura and Nicotiana capture my attention, as well as the climbing vines with tubular flowers to attract hummingbirds and a create fragrant entrance to the vegetable garden.

I designed my garden with good bones, so that a structure stays in place even when the ground is buried with snow. Long rows of Arbor vitae are planted around the perimeter, and this time of year the emerald green branches are draped with folds of white snow. In the center, a standard viburnum stands just over 5 feet tall, yet beyond that everything else is buried under more than a foot of snow. Plants and seeds will change each spring, yet the basic design is a good one, and feeds my imagination all year long.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

01. Garden Books in Winter

Kitchen Garden Tip #1: I've created a stack of a garden books to read, to make the most of the quiet, insular season. Winter is hard for gardeners in the north country, when white is the only color in the landscape. I fill in the gaps by seeking bright colors, gravitating to hot orange, sunflower yellow and grassy green to keep my imagination stimulated long enough to keep the sparks alive.

Vermont winters can be long and it's essential to learn how to be resourceful and independent. While wandering on the top tier of Equinox mountain, with the dogs pushing through the fresh powdery snow, my thoughts turned back in time to when cabin fever was a reality with no escape. Farm chores, laundry and leaning, creating menus with crops stored in the root cellar were activities that filled the day with a relentless routine. I am grateful to have options, and the freedom to enjoy the woods on this snowy afternoon.