Blue Heron landscape Design | 2011 February

February 2011

24 Feb Book Review – Grow the Good Life

While I garden for a million fine reasons, underlying them all is the fact that I never feel more optimistic, engaged, productive or peaceful than when I am in my garden. – Michele Owens

Rodale Books February 2011

Grow the Good Life – Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, by (Rodale Books), is a love story. Not a traditional get-out-the-box-of-Kleenex love story, but a love story none the less. Michele Owens has crafted an ode to a passion developed for vegetable gardening.

The backyard vegetable garden, once a necessity for survival, has seen a revival in recent years as the economy has suffered and stories of contaminated food find their way onto the nightly news. More and more people are turning their recreational spaces into productive gardens, a place where they can feel safe about their food and ease the pressure on their budgets. Owens champions other benefits of gardening as well, such as physical fitness, peace of mind and sense of accomplishment.

With a writing style reminiscent of Michael Pollan (“Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “In Defense of Food”), Owens takes the reader on a journey of the vegetable garden beginning mid twentieth century and the end of the Second World War, and follows its decrease in popularity as America became more concerned with uniformity, ease of life and an obsession with cleanliness. From here, she segues nicely into the economics of food production and the efficiencies and low food cost of factory farming of today, before inviting the reader into her garden, and her own experiences.

Through chapters entitled Flavor, Health, The Soil, Beauty and The Kids, Owens extols the virtues of every aspect of vegetable gardening, and along the way introduces us to the characters and influences of her life. From members of her immediate family, to neighbors and friends in upstate New York, to international figures such as Dr. Elaine Ingham and Paul Stamets, the influences of her garden journey, now become ours. Her chapter on Flavor, is worthy of the purchase price alone, causing one’s mouth to water. I had my seed catalogs on my lap within minutes of finishing it.

An interesting chapter on Survival discusses the inherent efficiencies of a backyard garden and adapting a more self sufficient lifestyle, along with the possibilities of apocalypse, and the ability to survive on what you grow in your yard. It’s poignant and timely in its light-hearted approach.

The final chapter sums up Grow the Good Life’s message in its simple straight forward title, Happiness. The sense of satisfaction one takes from a vegetable garden and the joyful experience of growing one’s own food are best described by the author herself;

There are few things lovelier than a vegetable garden at dusk, and few things more satisfying than going out in the evening to pick the food you’ve grown before dinner with family and friends. To share the fruits of your labor is to give your love to the people you care most about.

Grow the Good Life, is not a how-to book, but rather a wonderfully descriptive tale of vegetable gardening and how it improves the quality of the life. With elegant prose, Owens paints a vivid picture of each story and of her experiences, eliminating any need for photographs. Engaging, witty, and very often funny, she pulls no punches when offering opinions, especially regarding the products and so-called experts of the vegetable gardening world, pointing out in most cases out that “the emperor’s gardener is wearing no clothes!”.

Long time gardeners will enjoy the feeling of camaraderie found within the covers of Grow the Good Life, those new to vegetable gardening will enjoy the inspiration with realistic expectations, and everyone will enjoy the story of one woman and her passion for her vegetable garden. Now that is a love story worth reading!

Disclaimer(s): This book was supplied to me by the publisher for the purpose of review. All thoughts and opinions are mine and remain my intellectual property until such a time that they along with the synapses of my brain are fully composted, at which time they will be added as mulch to the garden, come end of the season.

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22 Feb Garden Designers Roundtable: Edibles, Have Your Landscape and Eat It Too!

Today’s post is part of Garden Designers Roundtable, and the topic this month, in honor of our friend and fellow Roundtable blogger Ivette Soler, is “Edibles”. Ivette’s book The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-Less, Grow More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden has just been released from Timber Press.

As a designer, the joy of a client telling me they are thrilled with their new garden is only surpassed by them also telling of how much they enjoy interacting with it. Today’s fast paced lifestyle, and the “suburban sensibility” of what a yard should look like, has changed the way we view our yards. Once a place to play, recreate and supplement the pantry, is now seen as a sofa with a plastic cover, a space to been seen, used with caution, but preserved so as not to affect the home’s value. Worse yet, we not only strive to keep up with the Jones’ but mimic them as well, creating vast tracts of lawn and ornamentals with very little human activity. Edibles (a trendy name for growing food), give the designer another tool in the box to entice the property owner out of the house and into the landscape.

A vegetable garden and property value are not often used in the same sentence. But when approached with a designer’s eye, and mixed with ornamental plants, a wonderful space can be created. Visually stunning, a parterre would surely impress the neighbors and add value, but the maintenance would prove to be prohibitive. So what are the smaller things we can do to introduce edible into the landscape? Let’s find out!

Perennials. Herbs are useful plants, not only in the culinary sense, but aesthetically too. They add texture, form and blossom, and can be used in pots, as ground covers or even hedges. Herbs such as Thyme, Chives and Sage can be added to the perennial border, foundation planting or mixed in with pots on the deck with annuals for a stunning combination.

Garlic Chives have wonderful grass like foliage and pretty white flowers!

Shrubs. High bush Blueberry Vaccinium corybosum is the perfect plant to add both beauty and taste to the landscape. Great bark color in the winter, soft green foliage, incredible red and orange fall color, make this an extremely ornamental shrub. The berries are terrific for attracting birds, and if you get to them first, are one of the healthiest foods you can eat! You can even buy Low Bush Blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium as sod, to create a naturalized area or for use as a ground cover.

Blueberry Sod (Vaccinium angustifolium)

Photo from Fred’s Wild Sod in Blue Hill, ME

Trees. Fruit and nut trees are a great way to add edibles to the landscape. Apple, Peach, Plum and Cherry, all have beautiful and fragrant blossoms, great foliage and sweet fruit. Use dwarf varieties for small spaces. Nuts such as Walnut, Butternut, Almond and Filberts are all tasty additions to the landscape, and recent introductions have provided blight resistant Chestnut cultivars, giving hope that this stately North American native will once again populate our landscapes.


The delicious fruit of the American Chestnut

Photo from Bioweb

Annuals. Vegetable plants can be added to nearly every landscape, but not all veggies are ornamental enough to be included, so we must choose wisely. In her new book, The Edible Front Yard, Ivette Soler presents four criteria she uses when choosing vegetables for use in the ornamental landscape;

1. The entire plant must have a pleasing form – It cannot stand on the merits of its flowers (or vegetable or fruit) alone.

2. It has to give me at least two reasons to plant it (such as color and form, or texture and seedpods).

3. It’s leaves must hold up for the entire growing season.

4. If you must plant ornamental edible in the front yard because you have no other suitable space, pay extra attention to your hardscape.

By using Ivette’s criteria, we ensure a beautiful garden through out the season. Here are a few of her suggestions for use;


The vibrant colors of Swiss Chard will brighten up any garden!

Photo from Uprising Seeds


Eggplant adds interest as well as beauty!

Photo from Tiny Farm Blog


Lacinato Kale will surely blend into the perennial border!

Photo from Organic Garden

It’s time we once again look to our yards as productive spaces, instead of something unused that simply adds value. I hope you have seen here that your yard can be a place of respite, recreation and also a place to grow food, and it can be visually stunning as well. What edibles will you add to your landscape? I would love to hear about it, so why not leave a comment or head over to the Facebook page and upload some pictures.

Until next time, may you find nourishment in your garden!



If you’d like to learn more about Edibles see my review of Ivette Soler’s book The Edible Front Yard here, and also please visit the blogs of my fellow Roundtable designers (links below) as they also discuss this tastier side of the garden.

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »

Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »

Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA

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17 Feb Book Review – The Edible Front Yard

Timber Press February 2011

Close your eyes and imagine your front yard as a place to grow food. What did it look like? I would guess that the images you see fall somewhere between the hapless Douglas Farm from “Green Acres” and the picture perfect veggie garden of the movie “It’s complicated”. In her new book, The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden (Timber Press February 2011), Ivette Soler urges the reader to repurpose the front lawn into something more useful than grass, and provides a clear plan for success.

The heart of the debate over the front yard is aesthetics vs. sustainability. The front lawn has long been the status symbol for success in this country, and has become a sacred space in the minds of homeowners. The American ideal has replicated itself in every corner of the country and presents us with a problem. A lush weed free lawn is labor and resource intensive, and gives back only a vast green, often unused space. As alternative, food crops or vegetable gardens are productive spaces that usually lack an aesthetic quality. “The Edible Front Yard” merges aesthetics and production to create sustainable space that is resource friendly, aesthetically pleasing, and a source of fresh homegrown food.

With a writing style that is accessible and encouraging, and a book that is wonderfully photographed, Ms. Soler opens up the boundaries of what a front yard can, and even should be. In the first chapter, she addresses curb appeal. “What will my neighbors think?”will be the first roadblock anyone considering transforming their front yard will encounter. Soler approaches this topic as the successful garden designer she is, stating about the front yard:

You want that prime piece of real estate to look fantastic as well as perform for you throughout the season, so any  edible you plantthere is under pressure. It will be scrutinized. When dealing with the front of your home, we have to come to grips with the fact that beauty matters. Your front yard is a greeting to the world.

The next chapters in the book are dedicated to the plants that should be used in the edible front yard. Profiling the workhorses and companions that meet her criteria, Soler includes notes on each plant’s characteristics and aesthetic value, along with valuable growing tips and culinary uses. These chapters alone make the book worth the read.

A primer on garden design basics and profiles of several beautiful, edible gardens from around the country set up the second half of the book. Packed full of hints, tips, and how-to’s for creating a front yard edible garden, these chapters cover everything from removing lawn and unwanted structure, constructing new hardscape, irrigation, and screening, to creating, planting and organically caring for the garden. The book is written with a Southern California viewpoint, where the author lives, but ample notes are made for readers in cooler climates, and although many of the wonderful plants grown in Soler’s garden will not work here in my Southern New England Garden, it has inspired me to seek out viable alternatives.

With the sensibility of a designer, the passion of a foodie, and the enthusiasm of a coach, Ivette Soler has crafted a blueprint for creating a front yard that is no longer is a drain on resources, but a giver of life enriching nourishment. “The Edible Front Yard”, provides us the tools to grow our own food in a beautiful garden and reconnect with the land between house and curb. It has earned a spot on every gardener’s bookshelf.

Disclaimer(s): This book was supplied to me by the publisher for the purpose of review. All thoughts and opinions are mine and remain my intellectual property, until such a time that my children deem me unfit to make rational decisions. At that time all rights will pass to the chipmunks tunneling through our stone wall. Ivette Soler is a friend and fellow contributor on Garden Designers Roundtable, neither of which has garnered privilege in this review. Such privilege is reserved solely for my Mom, who one day will write her memoir entitled, “How I Raised Three Sons And A Husband, And Lived to Tell About It!”Sure to be a work of pure fiction.

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