Happy first day of May… it’s officially garden season!

 

We spend as much time as we can in our garden and put a big harvest table in the center of it so we can eat family meals out there.  Last year, Southern Living Magazine came over for a visit and photographed a little family garden meal for a story that’s so near and dear to my heart.  (Kaitlyn Yarborough wrote it, Hector Manuel Sanchez photographed it & Buff Hargett Miller styled it.)  It was one of my favorite photo shoots ever because we literally just got to hang out together for an evening, picking veggies, eating and hanging out, while Hector took photos.  It was full of so many good moments that I love seeing photos of… I have taken pics of our garden before but never has it been captured like this and never have we all gotten to be in them together as a family.

In this photo, the house is to the right

 

I designed a large  (40′ x 40′) stucco’d terrace to attach to the back of our house- the back porch- which is technically the side of our house.  (our house is long and skinny and this is the far end… our driveway takes you to the other end of the house.  We’re on a corner.)  There are 4 entrances into the garden with stairs either going up into it or down out of it depending upon the grading.  We used landscape fiber on top of the dirt/ VA clay and put down plain/ standard pea gravel.

We have 8 long beds and 2 smaller  4’x4′ beds with willow pyraminds for beans.  In the long beds I do:

LEFT SIDE FROM HOUSE LOOKING DOWN:

BED 1: swiss chard, lettuces/ spinach in colder months and switching to a basil bed when it gets warmer

BED 2:  lettuces, sorrel, herbs (chives, rosemary, lavender, basil, cilantro, parsley, Italian parsley, lemon thyme) & celery & artichoke

BED 3: (small square bed) Beans & nasturtium

BEDS 4&5: tomatoes with different types of squash

 

RIGHT SIDE FROM HOUSE LOOKING DOWN:

BED 6: beets, sunflowers, plantain, carrots

BED 7: echinacea, beets, fennel, carrots, butterfly bush (it brings so many butterflies & makes it so beautiful!!)

BED 8: (small 4×4) beans + cabbages

BED 9: wild flower mix (cosmos, zinnias, marigolds) + cucumbers

BED 10: barely gets any sun so I gave it up to mint and a butterfly bush.  We go through a ton of mint now with the chickens

In the beds by the house we have limelight hydrangea and espaliered pear and apple trees.

 

This is rough and I do rotate things every year but honestly not as much as I should.  We really work the soil at the begining of every season, adding in more and so far, things have seemed  to be okay in repeating beds.  I like my hearbs closest to the house and my tomatoes out in the distance where it’s sunniest and they don’t block the rest of the garden from view.  The beds are filled with good soil & 20% humus and we use a natural fertilizer maybe once or twice a season.    I have had bad luck in the past with bugs going after certain veggies (brussel sprouts and okra!! so when that happens I usually leave them out for a couple of years to keep the pests out.)

I get asked a lot about deer and though we have a LOT of them around here, they stay out of the garden… I think because it’s terraced.

The evening of the Southern Living story, I made  some simple salads and a charcuterie board with a pesto for dipping fresh veggies.   I made a gorgonzola beet salad with chives (no pics) and a served it all with crusty French bread and cheese.

I love wrapping freshly-picked green beans + asparagus in prosciutto.  I like putting loose leaves on my boards because I generally like something green/ fresh in every bite so people can just grab a leaf or flower when they’re eating the meat or cheese.  We love creating “love bites” for each other and sharing a particularly good combo. when one of us has made one.

 

The kids (+ Dave!) love to eat the tomatoes like apples.  I usually do about 8-10 tomato plants (mostly heirloom and a couple cherry or grape sized) a year and we have enough for ourselves and to share with friends & family.

I give the kids their own little picking baskets. We use these (in the photo above) from my garden shop.

 

We go out there on evenings whenever we can and blast the music and have a meal.  I love going back to the garden in the summer after I’ve gotten so dirty and tired working outside all day and then get showered and put on something pretty and comfy.   (Makes me feel human again lol!)

The amazing guys from our good friend & contractor, Mike Carr’s construction company, CarrMichael Constructions- made our white cedar beds. I designed them with a little 6″ ledge for sitting and weeding. IT’s a great spot to sit a drink down on too! 😉  I’m standing between beds 1&2 here

I love taking a little prosecco and mixing it with whatever’s fresh in the garden- this time it was fresh mint and garnished with in-bloom nasturtium petals and peach slices.  Sooo cool & fresh!  The kids love a virgin version with club soda.

This photo was taken from our porch looking into the garden. You can spy the gazpacho I made back right.  (I’ll be sure to share the recipe this summer when the tomatoes are out!)

 

My kids always seem to love food more when they’ve had a hand in growing it and picking it.  Our kids seem to love vegetables and I think it’s because they’re a part of the process with it. (lol and maybe because for so many years they haven’t been allowed to leave the table without finishing their plates?? mean mama!) My favorite go-to salad (taught to me by my Italian grandfather) is a simple dressing made of thinly sliced onions (slightly muddled & marinated in olive oil and vinegar with salt & pepper)…  I use it over whatever’s fresh from the garden and this time it was a little bibb lettuce rainbow chard, kale, nasturtium petals, and dandelion leaves.  (Right now we have fresh violets which also make for a beautiful salad!)

You know the onions are ready when they get brown from the balsamic vinegar/ oil mixture. I use Filiippo Berio (Regular/ NOT extra virgin) and this stuff is weirdly good & so easy

 

This place just calms me and makes me feel free. I kind of forget about things for a while and I can exhale.  (and with the pea gravel and raised beds, it’s been the easiest garden we’ve ever had to maintain. )

Here you can really see just how tall everything is… The sunflowers were at least ten feet high!! You can also see the wisteria vines (right and left going up posts) and the limelight hydrangea in the beds in front of the porch. The apple & pear trees are in front of those sort of acting as a fence.

 

To read the whole story, be sure to check out this month’s Southern Living!  There’s an abridged online article here. 

To check out my new garden shop filled with some of my favorite garden supplies, go here.  I’m constantly adding new products to our new Lauren Liess & Co. shop these days so let me know if there’s something you’d like to see in there!!! And I am TRYING to get that willow picking basket that I always carry around with me but it was sadly discontinued.  I’m going to BEG BEG BEG the manufacturer to bring it back so we can carry it and I’m searching for another!!

 

And – concerning life in general right now- I hope you’re all doing okay.  There are so many people sick and hurting right now because of lost loved ones and it can be really hard to just get through some of these days, knowing how many are suffering.  I’m so sorry for so many people right now and I’m so sorry if you’re hurting.  Sending you love & praying for you all.