Monday, November 4, 2013

Kitchen Garden Inspiration from Chateau Villandry

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the gardens at the Chateau Villandry in the Loire Valley of France. The gardens there are gorgeous. Of all of them, though, the kitchen garden is the one that made the biggest impression on me. My memory of that visit has forever changed what comes to mind when I hear the phrase, "kitchen garden."

I've grown vegetables and I know that "working" gardens, the ones that produce our food, aren't always picture perfect. They start out in spring looking orderly, but as the season progresses and gardeners get bored or busy with other things, the garden begins to go a bit wild. Vines wander, weeds creep in, lettuce bolts, and yellow leaves tattle on gardeners who water too much or too little.

Before my visit to Villandry, I thought of gardens as being either ornamental, planted and arranged to bring beauty into a space, or edible, planted for the purpose of food production. Never the twain to meet. But leave it to the French, with their love of all things beautiful and delicious, to combine the two.

I was there in September, the time of year when vegetable gardens often look their worst. But here, with beds edged with boxwood, flowers and espalliered apple trees, the garden looks tidy and thriving. 

Villandry's kitchen garden is all organic. Gardeners use non-chemical techniques both old and new to maintain the health of the soil and plant material. 

It's all here: cabbages, kale, beans, various greens, leeks, berries, dwarf fruit trees and more. I saw pumpkins and squash being harvested when I was there. Rose standards mark the corners of beds. Annuals and perennials provide cutting flowers and seasonal color.

Where does all this bounty go? The chateau restaurant, La Doulce Terrasse, offers a seasonal menu featuring produce from the garden and the local area.

If you would like to visit Villandry and enjoy its gardens, information is available on their official website. Even if you can't visit in person, you'll want to take a look to find inspiration for your own kitchen garden. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Autumn from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"

This beautiful video was filmed at The National Botanical Gardens of Wales. The violin soloist is Julia Fischer, accompanied by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

What Is the Difference Between a Fruit and a Vegetable?

When people find out that a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable, they are usually surprised. They think of fruits as being sweet and vegetables as being savory. Since tomatoes are commonly used in savory dishes, why aren't they called vegetables?

The answer is simple. What distinguishes a fruit from a vegetable isn't whether it is sweet or not. It has to do with which part of the plant we eat.

Botanically speaking, a fruit is the fleshy part of the plant that surrounds a seed or seeds. So apples, peaches, plums, grapes, pears and bananas, which we commonly call "fruits," indeed are. And so are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squashes.

A vegetable's edible parts are its leaves, stems or roots. So lettuce and spinach are vegetables, because we eat the leaves. Asparagus is a vegetable - we eat the stems. And "root crops" like beets, carrots, potatoes and onions are also in the vegetable category.

Monday, September 2, 2013

How To Build a Rain Garden

Lately, I've been learning a lot about "green storm water infrastructure" (in other words, methods of managing storm water runoff) as I have been writing on my other blog about the environmental impact of a proposed development in my neighborhood.

In my search for a clear detailed explanation of how to build a rain garden, I came across this video. It was produced by Washington State University and does an excellent job of addressing just about any question you might have. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Do Houseplants Get Lonely?

One of my sons gave me a peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) 15 years ago. It has always produced healthy green leaves, but it hasn't flowered in probably 10 years. For many years, it was the only houseplant I had. I keep it mostly because it was a gift from my son.

Three weeks ago, a friend gave me another peace lily. As you can see, it is very vigorous and full of blooms. I put it next to the older lily while I made space for it across the room.

A few days ago, I was astonished to see that the older plant is starting to bloom!

I don't think this is a coincidence. My years of gardening experience have convinced me that plants communicate with each other. I suspect that the presence of the younger plant has inspired my old one, reminding it of how much fun it is to bloom and thrive. 

Do you have a similar plant story? If so, please share it. 

And if you are skeptical about plant communication, you might want to read this article about plant survival mechanisms. Just as intriguing is new evidence that plants can "talk and hear." 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's Time To Sign Up For Savvy Gardener Classes

The 2013 Savvy Gardener spring class schedule has just been announced. These classes are brought to you by the Saving Water Partnership, Cascade Water Alliance and their affiliated water utilities. The purpose of these classes is to teach people how to create beautiful, sustainable and even edible landscapes, while conserving water. The classes cover a wide range of topics from composting to plant selection. There are classes for beginners and for experienced gardeners.

Classes are held throughout the Seattle area. And all of them are FREE! You do have to register, however, because class sizes are limited.

Here are a few of the classes that will be offered between March and June this year:

  • Edible Landscapes for the Homeowner
  • Grow Your Own Food Forest
  • Sustainable Veggie Gardening
  • Native Splendor in the Garden
  • Wildlife Friendly Gardening
  • Natural Yard Care
  • Drip Irrigation 101
  • Transform Your Dry Shade Into Lush Beauty
  • Sustainable Garden Design

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How Will Your Garden Grow in 2013?

What are you going to do in the garden this year? This is the time of year to read, dream, make plans, change them, write lists, draw sketches, and stare out the windows at your garden. While you are imagining all the wonderful things to come, you are laying the groundwork (so to speak) for a successful gardening season.

Here are resources that will help you decide what you want to do when those first perfect gardening days of the year arrive.

Steve Solomon's book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades is a classic. Vegetable gardening is different in our Maritime climate than in other parts of the country, so general gardening books aren't that useful. Let this book be your guide to the plant varieties and techniques that will work here. Just as importantly, Solomon explains care of the soil, including composting, fertilizing and efficient water use. Healthy soil = healthy produce.

What seeds should you plant? Consider those from Botanical Interests, a Seattle Garden Ideas affiliate. They sell GMO-free seeds, many heirlooms, and their seed packets are so full of useful information, you'll want to keep them around for reference. Visit their website for helpful articles, special sales and occasional contests.

If you are a visual learner, you may find the help you need at The Northwest Flower and Garden Show. This is the show's 25th year of providing gardening inspiration with stunning display gardens, seminars and so much more. The show runs February 20-24 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.

For gardeners who like a "calendar" approach to planning, the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide is ideal. The content is arranged month-by-month, listing what to do each month and including tips on when to plant seeds, soil amendments, organic fertilizers, pest control and lots more. I wish Seattle Tilth would release a new edition of this valuable little book, but you can get used copies on Amazon for just $12.99.

Are you planning to add raised beds or compost bins this year? Visit, a Seattle Garden Ideas affiliate, for how-to information, inspiration and products for sustainable gardening. Remember, they plant a tree for every order placed!

In my design practice, I have used my copy of The Pacific Northwest Gardener's Book of Lists so much that it is literally falling apart. I have to tape pages back into it every time I look something up. This book is just what it says, a collection of plant lists for just about every conceivable condition. Wet, dry, full sun, shade, annual, perennial, ground cover, tree, shrub - they're all there. This guide will really help you choose the right plants for the right places.

OK, it's time to get started. There's something so uplifting about garden planning. Enjoy the process.

Related posts:

When Is the Right Time to Prune?
It's February and Time to Prune Roses
Ready To Take Out Your Lawn?