Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kitchen Gardening... a Preppy's Puttering

Part of our lattice room's potting shed area

Our kitchen garden mid-spring last year
  • Pink/Rose, White and Green color scheme
  • English gardening accessories
  • Wellie boots by Hunter
  • Native plants and vines whenever possible
  • Pottager's mix-it-up style just for fun in the side garden
  • Roses and a cutting-flower bed
  • Herbs and some Veggies fresh-to-the-table
  • Plenty of Mint for tall, cold glasses of iced tea

After the Christmas and New Years holiday festivities have passed along and winter deepens its hold on us, there's always spring to begin looking forward to especially with all the gardening and seed catalogues now coming along in the mail.
Living once again in a southern climate where winter means a lot of rain, on dreary days or during long windy nights I like to peruse through the growing stack of these catalogues as well my favorite books about gardening- seeking inspiration and ideas for the upcoming spring plantings.
There are a plethora of seed catalogues but one of my favorites is The Cooks Garden. Of course Smith and Hawken catalogues provide as well plenty of style ideas and proffer great gardening accessories. My longtime favorite copper watering can came from one of their stores: a long-necked Haws made in England that has served me well over the years both outdoors and indoors with watering. And James and my "his and her" dark green Hunter wellies also were purchased there. I'm not a big Croc fan by any means however, with gardening in our humid coastal south here, I finally broke down and bought a pair to wear in order to keep my feet relatively cool. I couldn't do without them now. Beyond catalogues and large-scale purveyors, I also delight in stopping by our locally-owned nurseries and garden stores here as well and never seem to leave without something to add into the garden that's for sure. Or yet another orchid plant for the house but that's another story...
Basically, my gardening around our five acres out here on the island is kept as simple as I can possibly keep it. There's a lot of lawn to mow between the upper and lower lots plus plenty of woods lining the wide grassy areas and also a palmetto grove to keep me ever-busily picking up fallen tree limbs and palmetto fronds. Around the house then, it's (for now) a simple landscaping of lined garden beds that primarily feature rose bushes, lantanya aka butterfly bushes, some fading shrubbery (that I'd love to replace eventually), lots of native vines like Confederate Jasmine, Trumpet Vine, Morning Glory and pine straw bedding- a lot of which comes directly out from underneath our pine trees.
Around the side yard facing out into the marsh and ocean waters just beyond is the small, raised-bed kitchen garden that James and I installed a few years ago. Here's where I "do" most of my happy gardening puttering. And like a dyed-in-the-wool Southern Preppy, I've got my old wooden-handled trowl in hand and an equally old wooden English trug basket on my arm.
After much experimentation, we've discovered that the following does really well: tomatoes of all varieties, some lettuces, various peppers, almost any type of herb and cheerfully casual kinds of flowers such as sunflowers, zinnias, daisies and the like. What didn't fare well much to my dismay after repeated attempts were spinach, cucumbers and squashes. And nowhere around our place here can my all-time favorite flower, peony, thrive or even survive. So sad. I used to adore setting a vase packed full of peonies onto my grandmother's ornate mahogany dressing table which was passed down to me when I was a teenager. Those frothy peony petals always perched so prettily above the various perfumes, silver-handled brushes and pots of makeup scattered about on the table's top. Now I make-do with roses and my bright, meadow like kitchen garden flowers and... it's not so bad after all but I still miss peonies and bunches of fragrant lilacs as well which were abundant in my parent's backyard when we lived up north in an old renovated farmhouse for several years.
Sometimes I dream about having an English garden like the ones I've glimpsed on several occasions when being in that country. Maybe a small, stone or brick walled back door type of kitchen and herb garden graveled-lined that then leads out into a wider lush tumble of bright lawn expanse. A grassy swath of green that is beautifully lined with clusters of decorative trees and overflowing beds of flowers which eventually meet up against the boundaries of a deep, dark and quiet wood. Ahh.
Other times I think of the wilder, sea-wind swept coastal gardens in Scotland where I've also enjoyed some time around. There it's more about natural grasses and other hearty vines and wilder looking flowers that can take the elements and the cold in due measure. A more minimalist and yet oh, so visually striking way of gardening. And there are many other international garden inspirations I can pull ideas from and dream about of course.
Another way to enjoy vicariously gardening is to read about it. One of the best writers of all time to bring readers so wonderfully into his gardens (and the various homes he moved around to) was the late Beverley Nichols. His books like "Merry Hall" and "Sunlight on the Lawn", to name a few, are a true delight to loose oneself within. I first discovered them on the dusty shelves of a small library in North Carolina and since then have occasionally purchased one or two along the way whenever I find them at bookstores.
If a more American, hands-on and pragmatic style of virtual gardening is desired, then the witty yet ever so practical books of the late Henry Mitchell will definitely fit the bill. I also very much enjoy his writings and both "The Essential Earthman" and "One Man's Garden" stay by my bedside table year round. They're stacked there beside my personal gardening journal which is filled with quite sporadic quips, quotes and sketches detailing my gardening years throughout my adulthood in the suburban woods of NC, on the side of a mountain out in UT and of course now out here on this island off the coast of SC.
Here are some more great gardening books I continually enjoy re-reading that may inspire you too:
  • "The Meaning of Herbs- myth, language and lore" by Gretchen Scoble, Ann Field
  • "Pink Ladies and Crimson Gents- portraits of roses" by Molly & Don Glentzer
  • "Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden" by Emily Whaley
  • "The Cottage Garden" by Christopher Lloyd
  • "The Way We Garden Now" by Katherine Whiteside
  • "Green Thoughts- a writer in the garden" by Eleanor Perenyi
  • "The Writer in the Garden" by Jane Garmey

The list above is less technical and more inspirational... though "The Way We Garden Now" has many charming projects and watercolor illustrations throughout its pages. These are just a few of the gardening books I lug around with me wherever we live. I also cherish my Grandmother Wylly's various old gardening books as she was a member of Savannah's Trustees Gardening Club way back when and had a lovely yard full of camellia and azalea bushes along with stately magnolia trees.

Our place here is much more casual than what were, and still are, my extended family's various gardening spots in Savannah and also up in Charleston but that's what island-livin's all about... a freer, more happenstance and having-fun-with-it-all kinda ethos. If one lives on "island time" then perhaps it makes complete sense to garden "island wise".

Here's to looking forward to spring and spring plantings on the horizon!

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