FOR ME, a garden without vegetable and herbs is as barren as one without birds singing. My garden needs the perfume of sun-warmed alpine strawberries and the sounds of neighborhood children hooting with joy as they pull carrots. And I certainly can’t imagine a garden where my friends and family are not able to help me harvest ‘Sugar Snap’ peas and baby greens for an impromptu supper.
I started growing my own vegetables and herbs here in California 20 years ago after a friend casually commented, “With all your interest in cooking, I’m curious why you only grow flowers.” My answer seemed so obvious: “How can I grow vegetables when I have such a small plot, and the only sunny space is in the front yard? Everyone knows you can’t grow vegetables in the front yard!” In my mind a vegetable garden looked either like my father’s large, rectangular Victory Garden style plot or like the traditional walled kitchen gardens I’d seen at estates in England and France. My lack of space, time, and money meant neither was appropriate for my suburban property.
But my friend had struck a chord. I had fond memories of my dad’s tomatoes and strawberries and had been frustrated for years in my efforts to find fresh tarragon, red bell peppers, and other types of produce. Soon after our discussion, my friend and I started a garden in her backyard, putting in rows of corn, tomatoes, beans, and strawberries; hills of melons, squash, and pumpkins; and a bed of herbs. It was wonderfully rewarding. I learned a great deal about growing vegetables and herbs, and my cooking repertoire became entirely dependent on having dewy-fresh baby lettuces, corn that was picked minutes before, and, of course, perfectly ripe tomatoes.
I was soon frustrated, however, by having the garden miles from my kitchen. I yearned to run out and nab a few tomatoes or sprigs of thyme, and to keep an eye on ripening melons and corn. It became obvious I needed my own vegetable garden.
Thus began the slow conversion of my front yard and my ongoing odyssey with edible plants. First, I mixed a few vegetables and herbs in the flower border. I planted artichokes and let a few bloom. With their large, gray, deeply cut leaves and spectacular lavender blossoms they made a dramatic focal point at the back of a large border planted with flowers of white, purple, and pink. Among marguerite daisies, dahlias, lavender, and variegated society garlic, I tucked eggplants, red basil, oregano, and bell peppers and edged them with pink begonias, alpine strawberries, and thyme. My planting expanded year after year until mixed beds took up half the front yard. Continue reading California kaleidoscope