Ornamental Edibles

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THE DREAMING CONTINUES…the stack of gardening books on my coffee table grows…the sketches of my garden-to-come (six days ’til closing!) proliferate. I’ve realized that the area I’m considering for a vegetable patch — the only cleared, and hence sunny, area on the property at the moment — and my front entry garden, just inside the future parking court, are one and the same. It’s also the spot — quite a large spot, roughly 1,000 square feet — that forms the front ‘yard’ and view from the future guest cottage, as well as being the central circulation core of the entire property (yes, all 1/2 acre of it).

So this space needs to function on many levels, including directing people toward the house, and not toward the compost heap, when they step out of the car. And of course, it needs to look good.

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These musings led me to Google ‘ornamental edible garden’ (and order a couple more books on the subject). I’d read about how veggies/herbs, flowers, and other plants were combined at  Mount Vernon and Monticello (and before that, in the cottage gardens of European peasants). I’m a great admirer of the attractive edibles garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, above, which seems to thrive into the winter with snazzy diagonal rows of spinach and kale and parsley going strong. And my Internet explorations revealed that ornamental edibles are a super-trendy trend in both urban and rural settings, with blogs aplenty devoted to them.

I’m a newbie at vegetable gardening. My only experience is a semi-successful tomato patch at my prior Brooklyn rental in Boerum Hill, where I planted way too many tomato starters in two 4’x8′ raised beds and spent much of the summer trying to keep them under control, but also got some very tasty tomatoes.

So I have a load of questions and concerns. First, what will such a garden look like in the off-season? Pretty uninspiring, I should think, covered mostly with mulch. It will need some evergreen structure. Second, vegetable gardens need a lot of water. How sustainable is that? Am I prepared to irrigate or hand-water intensively through the summer? Is my well? Third, how do vegetable beds jibe with my overarching concept of a Japanese-inspired garden? I’ve Googled ‘Japanese vegetable garden,’ you can be sure, but came up with not much more than how to grow Japanese vegetables.

Herewith, some photos from other sites, each with ideas I can glean for my purposes. As always, your thoughts are most welcome.

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How gorgeous is this? Brick paths between wedge-shaped beds…there’s a massive pile of brick behind the house that I’ve wondered what to do with, but it’s labor-intensive to lay and perhaps not in keeping with the rustic materials palette (gravel, wood chips) I had in mind.

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Eileen+NEW_GARDEN_2_2011_007rocklandmastergardener.blogspot.com. This one rises out of the lawn (I’m not planning on any lawn — none), but I relate to how it’s surrounded by tall trees.

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Variations on the wood-framed raised bed theme, separated by paths of gravel

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Raised beds made of cinder blocks, cottage-y picket fence and twiggy arbor. I’m figuring, since the whole property is fenced, I won’t need to surround the veggies with any additional fencing. I’ve never had to deal with rabbits, woodchucks, etc. at my other East Hampton property — only deer.

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Mix’n’match paving

GARDEN VOYEUR: The Barefoot Contessa’s Garden

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TAKE A PEEK behind the massive privet hedge at the Barefoot Contessa’s East Hampton garden. I did that on Wednesday. It was open to the public for a few hours as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, to benefit the organization’s work in preserving exceptional private gardens (usually of people who have died) that would otherwise be lost.

I generally find these Open Days fairly intimate affairs. Rarely crowded, they often feature eccentric and highly original gardens. Many times the gardeners are older women who have earned their stooped backs, cracked hands, and vast horticultural knowledge by dint of years of effort. Usually the homeowner/gardener is present to greet visitors and answer questions.

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This garden is different. It’s the home of Ina Garten, the celebrity cookbook author and TV personality also known as the Barefoot Contessa. I’ve never seen the show or read her books, or even tasted her famous brownies, but I did enough research to discover that she was born in Brooklyn [applause] and is self-made, having worked up from modest beginnings to this impressive, sprawling estate. Her husband Jeffrey is the former dean of the Yale school of management.

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It is a striking example of what can be done when money is no object. Here’s the description from the Open Days directory:

This garden features design work by Edwina von Gal implemented about fifteen years ago at Ina’s house, and new garden areas designed by Joseph W. Tyree at the barn Ina designed and built on an adjoining piece of property two years ago. Edwina’s original design at the house is arranged in squares like a kitchen garden, but is planted with perennials, annuals, roses, vegetables, and herbs. It includes a crabapple orchard and rose and hydrangea gardens, and is designed to feel like a traditional East Hampton garden. Joseph’s work at the new barn is set up into three distinct areas: the lawn, a walled garden, and a Lagerstroemia walk. The lawn connects the house by a series of low, broad, stone steps to the barn’s main terrace which is bordered by a low hedge and shaded by two great Linden trees. The sun-filled walled garden is planted with beds of lavender and herbs and has fragrant roses trained on the walls. The lagerstroemia walk is planted with only the white ‘Natchez’ variety of Lagerstroemia, boxwood, hydrangeas, and perennials and wraps around the walled garden and barn.

A short distance off Main Street, the garden is so insulated by hedges and 40′ tall cypresses it could be somewhere in the Tuscan hills. It is undeniably beautiful, yet it feels somewhat impersonal and not particularly imaginative. Maybe I’m just being a grouch, or suffering a case of sour grapes, when you consider the dramatic contrast to my own humble weed patch.

Ina Garten is a fabulously successful entrepreneur, and by all accounts a delightful person, but she’s not a gardener. Even when you can hire the best to do it for you, somehow it’s not the same.