Do You Know Where Your Salad Comes From?Guest blogger, Susan Cohan shares her thoughts on home vegetable gardens
The current trend for home vegetable gardens is still a largely untapped area full of design possibilities-on many levels. Beautiful gardens for food production have been built in Europe for centuries. Philosophically, these growing spaces should be about family, beauty and sharing food fresh from the garden. In the United States, Michelle Obamas White House vegetable garden, the locavore, slow home and edible yard movements are creating a shift in our perceptions of the backyard vegetable garden. Michael Pollan's film Food, Inc. caused many to think about how and where their food is grown.
With a little bit of thoughtful planning these gardens can be as beautiful as any other. They can engage the entire family from planting a single seed through a bountiful harvest. They can be as small as a single basil plant and as big as the imagination and the available garden help will allow. They can be entertaining spaces that extend the idea of a garden party beyond the traditional deck or patio. They can beckon and teach. Most of all, they can be places of charity. The sheer number of vegetables produced by most gardens exceeds what the typical family can consume. Do you, like I do have childhood memories of zucchini fixed every possible way until you couldn't possibly eat another one? Ample Harvest makes it easy to donate locally to families at food risk-enter your zip code and local food banks capable of accepting and distributing fresh harvests will be listed in all 50 states.
Two years ago I set out to incorporate all of the above mentioned design possibilities into a designer show house garden. The almost ¼ acre space was previously an abandoned dog run. There were some struggling perennials off to the side and one wonderful red rhododendron. When I was done with it, it had gravel paths, blue raised beds, a meadow with a small orchard, standard roses, romantic wicker furniture and even a bocce court. It was a huge hit with the 20,000+ visitors and the press. People would come and ask to taste things they were unfamiliar with. We invited local chefs to come and cook with our produce and offered tastings. We had cocktails for the other designers in the space one evening...muddled affairs with herbs from our potted herb garden.
It also had something different. Over a period of six weeks, the garden yielded 350 pounds of fresh produce that was all donated to a local food bank. This act of charity wasn't designed to be anything but exactly that, but a funny thing happened. People started asking me to design these kinds of gardens for them. They wanted food growing spaces that would also be a family oasis and a place to entertain friends. It was not my intent, but by giving as much as I could away I got back more than I expected in return. To this day it was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had and the garden continues to give back to me and my clients.