Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Omnivore's Dilemma Solved!

One of the harsh realities of my yard is that I don't have a lot of direct sunlight. I can never grow vegetables. That's why I'm envious of my friends who can. And I've turned a peculiar shade of green this year because of some friends here in Williamsburg who've created a neat little vegetable garden in their back yard. I think it's a great model for anyone with a small yard.

By growing their own food, Susie and Jeff (not their real names - understandably, they wanted to avoid the chaos of instant celebrity that comes with a profile in How It Grows) have tried try to reduce their carbon footprint and deepen their understanding of where food comes from. Some of the books that have inspired them are The Omnivores Dilemma, The End of Food, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

I like their veggie garden because it's not too big, and it's very tidy. It seems like it must be fairly easy to maintain, but maybe it's the skill of the gardeners that makes it looks that way. I climbed up on the roof to get shot above, so you can get an idea of the layout of the garden. Nothing fancy, but the lines are straightforward and attractive. The garden also works well with the non-veggie portion of the garden (Susie calls it a multi-tasking garden). Here's a view from inside the veggie garden looking out to their pond.

I really like the way he raspberry trellis above defines the entrance to the vegetable garden, differentiating it from the rest of the yard, but also making it inviting. With the nice grass paths, the garden feels like a place you would want to spend some time even if you weren't working in it. And here's something I've never seen before: under their raspberries trellis, Susie & Jeff have a placed a mulch made of old pine cones, which discourages Leo the cat from using it as a litter box. Its great that they can take something so annoying - old pine cones - and make them visually interesting.

Inside the garden, Jeff has built simple low fences that help to keep the critters out of the beds, but are easy to step over. To harvest their crops, Susie & Jeff have had to battle rabbits, birds, and an extremely large and hungry groundhog.

Inside the enclosures Susie & Jeff have tomatoes (below), watermelon, squash, lettuce, radishes, potatos, garlic, broccoli, string beans, winter squash and wineberries - all the stuff you might expect.

While Susie & Jeff make everything appear simple and easy, if you look closely, not everything is as perfect as it seems - and it sometimes it seems quite painful.

But we'll ignore that for now, because for every minor mishap there's something to make up for it like, this cat pavilion for Leo.

Jeff, a geologist, takes a very scientific approach to the garden. Next to the beans he's installed an old solar powered weather station to measure rain and temperatures.

Jeff uploads the weather data from the station to his computer, graphs it, and posts it on the fridge.

Theoretically, it tells him exactly how much water to use from his rain barrel to supplement the natural rainfall, but I suspect he just likes to make graphs. By the way, doesn't the rain barrel look great tucked into the bushes?

As I mentioned before, I really like the way the vegetable garden blurs into the rest of the yard - the vegetables aren't completely separate from the flower beds. Next to their deck Susie & Jeff have planted a pair of adorable dwarf peach trees.

The garden also blurs the line between inside and outside as well, providing great views from inside the house. Looking out from the family room (below), I asked Susie "Did you organize the layout of the garden to maximize particular sightlines?" "Yes...sure," she replied. While not entirely convincing in her response, I think maybe her innate sense of design was guiding her.

In the view from the study below, you can see the lovely kiwi arbor shading Our Lady of the Arugula.
It would be hard for me to work in a room like this. If I wasn't nodding off on the couch, my mind would always be wandering out into the strawberry patch.


Janet said...

I like their garden too! Pinecone mulch -- great idea. I like the little pavillion for the cat. That is one very organized garden. A weather

Not sure why but your posts aren't showing up on my sidebar. The last one to come through the feed is 'favorite things'????

Phillip Merritt said...

Thanks for the head up!

Phillip said...

I want to do something like this at my mother's house. I don't have enough sun either although I can grow tomatoes and peppers in limited sun. My vegetable garden is underneath a dogwood tree!

The dwarf crape myrtle you were asking me about is "Pocomoke".