Finding My Garden: Harvest Time

You may remember an earlier blog post from late spring when I shared that we were going to turn our entire front yard into a potager garden. Well, as harvest time is now upon us, I am happy to share that the master plan for our front yard garden is well on its way to fruition.

Looking out at my abundant garden now, I am so grateful we took the leap.

Landscaper and neighbor Mike Madorsky was able to build all of my raised planter boxes in his shop over the winter. As the ground thawed and spring arrived, he had Romanin Concrete remove all of the grass from my front yard and then lay down a solid layer of crushed recycled concrete, leaving a 4-foot-wide ground level bed all the way around. He then placed the boxes according to the master plan, lined them with plastic, and filled each one to the brim with soil. Then began the happy task of filling them with plants, all according to the Square Foot Gardening method I wrote about in my spring Techniques column. Each plant is planted at its mature spacing, so no thinning is required. My friend started me off with lots of herbs, which I placed right near the front door so that I could easily snip some to use in cooking. Because I did not have the chance to save any seeds or start any plants indoors, I went right for organic seedlings.

For this first year, we planted kale, chard, broccoli, beans, eggplant, several kinds of peppers, tomatoes, cabbages, cucumbers, and squash. And then I waited. Our small but determined urban deer population liked the peppers and tomatoes, so I created a netting enclosure for those. While many things thrived, other plants just looked sad. But we persevered, learned from our mistakes, and jotted notes for next year.

We have been pretty lucky with the rain this year, but I discovered I could water all the beds using two big watering cans and my rain barrels. Mornings brought me great joy and purpose as I fell into the habit of taking my mug of coffee out with me to visit with each plant to see how they were doing (and offer a little pep talk). By evening, I usually returned to the garden with a beer, but that was more for my relaxation. Happy hour, indeed!

I had lots of encouragement from well-meaning neighbors. Apparently, we were a curious sight—I became accustomed to folks stopping their cars to ask questions and to cheer me on.

Little by little, there was evidence of progress and then—bam! As plants began flourishing, my once-barren boxes were filled to overflowing, and I felt that this front yard gardening thing might just work after all.

Oh, and the meals we’ve made. The kale, Swiss chard, and broccoli are just about finished. The cabbages have set lovely heads. The tomatoes and peppers have begun to deliver on their promises. The cucumbers went crazy, as they tend to do, and I made a dozen jars of pickles using Doug Katz’s father’s “famous” recipe. We’ve had two meals with our wax beans. The herbs are ready to be picked and dried and I’ll probably use some to make infused vinegars. I’ll be making pestos with basil and sorrel. I plan to use my great grandmother’s sauerkraut crock for the first time in about 60 years, once the cabbages get a bit further along. We’ll taste this garden all through the winter ahead.

There’s more to be done—more to introduce next year. The ground-level beds are covered with landscape fabric and mulch, but we plan to add quince, blueberry, and some other decorative shrubs next year. I will research modern-style bean supports to add to the décor and style of our home. We’ll eventually stain the boxes a beautiful grey-green to match our front porch.

This garden was in my head for such a long time and now it is, finally, a real and tangible thing. I couldn’t be happier. I love growing my own food, but I love growing my own neighborhood even more. I’ve met so many people, learned so much, traded advice, and just generally engaged in my community. And in our world, what could be more important than connecting?

— Melissa McClelland

Salade Niçoise