Growing Food In The Fairegarden

Pennsylvania 1976

There has always been a few tomatoes, maybe some peppers grown at every house we have lived in, including my childhood home. Back when I was young, a fresh tomato did not even have any appeal to me, it was the growing that whetted my appetite and my parents enjoyed the fruits of my labors. Rental apartments and houses were the next stage of abodes, with pots and in ground plantings that included herbs and flowers. Then came the purchase of our first house, with my very own dirt to do with as I pleased. I pleased to have a patch of sunny lawn rototilled for a veggie garden, one just like all the neighbors had with neat rows of lovely produce to feed a growing family. It was good. We lived there for eleven years, and had four offspring, including the first born Chickenpoet, seen in the photo wandering into the neighbor’s yard.

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Then we moved from Pennsylvania’s pastoral setting to southern California’s sandy warmth. Raised box beds that came with the house we bought were filled once again with tomatoes and herbs. There was an irrigation system in ground. One time we were away for a week, back to visit friends and family in Pennsylvania, and asked the neighbors to turn on the sprinklers in our absence, there was no automatic timing system. They remembered to turn them on, but forgot to turn them off until the next day, it was in the back yard so they couldn’t see the water filling the space to remind them to turn it off. When we arrived home, they ran over to warn us about the watering debacle. We went to check it out, the water had soaked into the sandy soil, but the plants had run rampant with all of that moisture. A little pumpkin plant from youngest offspring Brokenbeat’s kindergarten science lesson had spread to cover the entire space, sort of like an invasion from the Green Planet. There was an abundant harvest of white pumpkins. One pumpkin was given to his teacher, since she had a crop failure and would have no seeds for next year’s class to grow in their milk containers from lunch. We lived there for three years. (No photos exist of the pumpkin vine, so these from a fall display, some from our current garden, will have to do.)

Then we moved to northeast Tennessee, to a woodland community without a square foot of flat land. A formal knot type herb garden was built with landscape timbers to provide a level planting space, with a large raised box at one side for veggies. Bags of compost and topsoil were used to fill the beds, with lots of soil conditioner to help break up the dense clay soil. As with the previous gardens, there were tomatoes, herbs and plenty of flowers. Still good, for nine more years.

Then we moved to Texas. This was our first brand new construction house, with a blank slate for gardens in back. We built another raised bed for veggies and yes, planted tomatoes, among other things. There were lots of roses planted since it was discovered that the Antique Rose Emporium was less than an hour’s drive. The soil was rich and sandy, things grew well with irrigation during the dry summer months. Good, while it lasted, three years. (The 1998 photo shows the veggie bed to the left of my latest furniture building attempt, a bench. I don’t know what is going on with my hair, it must be pulled back or something.)

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Then we moved to our present southeast Tennessee location, the current incarnation of Fairegarden, that is a steep sloping property from the peak at the far back line to the street. It was determined that the space between a row of arborvitae along the back property line behind the garage and a row of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Gold Mop’s was the perfect sunny strip for veggie growing. A stacked concrete block wall was erected along the length, with paths below the wall and behind the growing area for good access. Many crops have been tried in the loamy lusciousness, compared to crumbly chocolate cake in an early post, click here-Food In The Garden to read about it. Digging squirrels and hungry rabbits have required some fencing to be set up around parts of the space to protect the strawberries and lettuce, in particular. At the eastern end are red Caroline and yellow Anne raspberries, doing well being grown on strong wires strung across stout metal fenceposts for ease of harvest and pruning.

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A large raised planter box was built a few years ago to use up old lumber and provide a space for leisurely gardening that could be done whilst sitting on a bench if desired. Chopped leaves were used to fill the large area, with well composted manure Black Kow, soil conditioner and homemade compost mixed in until it was full of planting material. More soil conditioner and Black Kow has been added, along with those precious chopped leaves through the years, to keep it topped up. The planting in the box is a mix of herbs, veggies and flowers that need special conditions, Eremurus. Dahlias are also in there. They are shy about returning, but it is not unheard of.
At present in the box is self sown Cilantro, lettuces, beets, Allium schubertii seedlings, Eremurus and Erysimum, a real mix of edibles and ornamentals.

Back to the veggie bed, the raspberries are leafing out nicely. They will be pruned soon, but I don’t really know how to do that and will remove dead canes and anything growing to block the pathways. The next area holds seedling leeks and Japanese plum yew cuttings. Next is garlic, Inchelium Red, planted last September.

Then the rest is fenced, with seed grown wild strawberries, sugar snap peas, radishes, carrots and sweet peas that have not shown themselves yet. Fingers crossed for them. The next fenced section holds all the saffron crocus that were dug and moved from the front raised planted last winter, split and replanted. I don’t know if this will help the flowering, but it is sunnier here and they are food, after all. More strawberries are at the end, moved last fall to prevent harvest the night before the berries are completely perfect for human consumption by rascally rabbits. There is a little space left inside the fence, maybe some nice peppers will go there.
The very end of the veggie bed sees a new fig tree, Chicago Hardy. The little Petite Nigra was just too petite and was moved to an out of the way spot in good soil, I am not even sure it is alive.

The original veggie box behind the shed becomes more shady with each passing year. Tomatoes, peppers and lettuce among others fed us well the first few seasons. Now it is home to three Sunshine Blue blueberry bushes that are still quite small. In the open spaces seeds are started with protection of overturned nursery flats, including several types of foxgloves planted last summer. There was a post about them that can be read by clicking here-Foxgloves-Digitalis. Rosa ‘Veilchenblau’ hangs out on the shed roof to pretty up the space. White Clematis ‘Candida’ twins around the rose for a purple and white show.

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A new bed has been prepared for tomatoes this year that previously held large rosemary bushes. Fresh compost from the bin has been spread and the cages are in place as a deterrent to digging critters. The Tomato Tradition continues, or will when the soil has warmed appropriately. May you all be inspired by this little saga to find a spot to plant something you can eat, whether in a pot or in the ground.

June 29, 2009 032

Perhaps it could be tomatoes.


Added: My blogging friend Jan of Thanks For 2Day has graciously allowed this post to become part of her Sustainable Living Project. Click here to find out more and join in the fun!

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20 Responses to Growing Food In The Fairegarden

  1. Sue says:

    Such lovely gardens. It must have been difficult to leave behind so many. I’ve only moved once, and it was hard to leave my garden and all the hard work I had into it.

    Thanks Sue. It was only difficult to leave Pennsylvania, more for the people left behind than the gardens. I am the garden maker, it goes where I go. We began our life’s adventure and the moves have made us all who we are. I wouldn’t change a thing, if it was possible. πŸ™‚

  2. You have a secret veg garden! How wonderful.

    Thanks Janet. I love having it behind the hedges, but would also love to pretty it up someday, perhaps with nicer fencing material. LIke the gardener, it continues to evolve. πŸ™‚

  3. Randy Emmitt says:


    Your gardens always have something to tell and evolve as life continues. great reading.

    Hi Randy, thanks so much. I wondered if anyone would be interested in the history lesson. The only thing constant is change! πŸ™‚

  4. Alistair says:

    I don’t grow much food except for tomatoes which need the heat of the greenhouse to produce fruits. Oh and some salad stuff outdoors. Raspberries grow in abundance in Scotland, I didn’t think they would do well in your hot climate. You have moved around, they say that the average time one stays in a house is about seven years, we have been 26 years in our place. Really enjoyed your post today.

    Hi Alistair, thanks, I am glad you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. Growing tomatoes is a US national pastime, no matter the growing zone. Even non gardeners like to stick a few plants in a pot or the ground, for nothing compares to a freshly picked tomato. The raspberries do very well, perhaps relatives of the rampant wild blackberries that dot the roadsides. You are lucky to be able to garden in one spot for so long. I hope to do so one day. πŸ™‚

  5. zen says:

    History like that makes me hungry!

    Thanks Zen! There is another chapter to this tale being built right now! πŸ™‚

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You have a nice selection of veggies tucked into your garden Frances. I love the picture of you sitting on the bench. You look so solemn. The Queen presiding over the garden. I was thinking earlier that I wanted to tuck in some cherry tomatoes this year. That is about all I will do in the garden due to the shady circumstances. Unless of course I would tear up the front garden where the sun does shine. Hmmmm

    Hi Lisa, thanks. I honestly hate to have my photo taken and rarely used to smile. I now produce a wide silly grin when a camera is pointed my way, evolution of a different sort. Growing food has risen in importance recently, and this post of mine is supposed to help sway people to use their land, or pots to that use. Do it! πŸ™‚

  7. Barbara H. says:

    What a timely post for me. I am taking a tomato workshop on Thursday. Your history lesson has whet my appetite for tomatoes! I loved seeing the secret food garden and I really liked that Texas bench! Thanks, Frances.

    Hi Barbara, thanks. I am so glad this has you on the veggie growing train! The Texas photo is a hoot, isn’t it? HA πŸ™‚

  8. Eileen says:

    Great trip back through your gardens. I have some photos of my last garden, but I am not sure I have any of my beginning gardens. It would be nice to look back and see what I planted.


    Hi Eileen, thanks. I am not sure why there are photos of the garden in PA, it was the time of sending rolls of film off to be developed even. We took tons of shots of the kids, I must have been trying to use up a roll. πŸ™‚

  9. Rose says:

    I so enjoyed this walk down memory lane with you, Frances! I don’t have old photos of my vegetable gardens, and I know I wouldn’t be brave enough to show old photos of me–oldest granddaughter, who helped me sort through old photos one day, decided that the ’80s were a series of bad hair days for me:) Anyway, I didn’t realize how many vegetables and fruit that you grew. Nice to see all the variety that you have. I agree, wherever you live, there’s always room for a few tomato plants!

    Thanks for strolling along with me, Rose. I laughed when that Texas photo was spied in the album. It had been totally forgotten, but thought it would bring a smile at the silliness. It doesn’t seem like we grow a lot of food until the list making began. We had been into herb growing for many years though, and consider them as ornamental as the flowers. We must have tomatoes! πŸ™‚

  10. I love it Frances;-) I don’t grow much food but am learning to try some veggies and herbs in pots on my deck and this year might try placing them in strategic sunny places around the yard. Love your gardens from the past, your photo (that you look so stoic in, but lovely just the same) and your post. You know, if you mention my project at the end of it, you can link it and be eligible to win the rainbarrel, composter and prizes in my giveaway!!

    Hi Jan, thanks for that. Herbs are so easy and pretty, I don’t even consider them as food until writing about veggie gardening. Do give them a try, and perhaps a few tomatoes, too. The Texas photo is funny, I laugh every time I see it. I was still thinking about my Earth Day posting, but will take you up on your generous offer! πŸ™‚

  11. Layanee says:

    There is nothing like a warm tomato picked fresh. Let there be tomatoes. Love the bench and the picture of the gardener. Gardens evolve as do we. Someday soon I will be able to garden here.

    Thanks, Layanee. Yes, let there be tomatoes! I hope you gardening season opens very soon. πŸ™‚

  12. Sharon Parker says:

    What a wonderful garden history, Frances! You have certainly lived up to the old adage of “Bloom where you are planted” that has always been a reminder to me when making one of my many moves. I have lived in 11 different states, including some locations the same as you (NE and SE Tn and southern CA). It was always important to me to leave the landscape with more trees and flowers, etc than when I arrived. One move when our son was 3, had us digging up the potatoes when they were still small, so he could experience that before we left. Have wonderful picture of him, covered in dirt, grinning from ear to ear and holding a bucket of spuds. Thanks for prodding my memory to think of my past gardens and good family times. I no longer have a garden, since I live in a condo now, but I garden vicariously through your wonderful blog and photos. It brings joy to my days! Thank you!

    Wow Sharon, what a coincidence that we have lived and gardened in those locations. I love the potato story! And thank you for those kind words. πŸ™‚

  13. Frances, it was such a nice history tour of the veggies in your garden. Mine also became too shady for veggies, and that’s one of the reasons I built the potager on the hill. However, in today’s wind, those little plants are getting whipped around. Gardening is never simple is it?~~Dee

    Thanks Dee. Funny how that works, trees and shrubs grow, providing shade to what was once a sunny spot. We must adjust accordingly. πŸ™‚

  14. Lola says:

    Thank you Frances for a lovely story of your gardening experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed every experience.
    My experience now it to plant every inch I can with veggies/flowers. In fact I pulled 2 young red onions & cut them up in my salad for lunch today. I do a lot of my gardening in huge pots of sorts & half whiskey barrels. Being in town & being restricted to certain movement it does present a challenge to a gardener which I think is part of the mystery/joy of gardening. I enjoy it a lot & I can see the love you have for it. Garden on my friend.

    Thank YOU, Lola, for continuing to garden through life’s adversity, and enjoying it! My hat’s off to you! πŸ™‚

  15. nellie says:

    I moved from my parents home to my husbands not counting a four-year layover in college. (yeah, I know, stereotypical and a bit sad) I can’t relate to all your moves but I do relate to trying to find a place to plant. You really have a green thumb and seem to have your priorities right. Plants come first! Lovely tomatoes.

    Hi Nellie, thanks and welcome. Your house history is not sad at all, IMHO, each person has their own life to live. Moving like that is not for everyone and there were downsides to it. But we believe one should make the best of their situation, life is too short not to. Gardening is a must for me, and I hope to be able to continue to grow tomatoes wherever I happen to be living. πŸ™‚

  16. Valerie says:

    Well you convinced me today to try planting some food among my flowers. Frances you are such an inspiration.
    You have caused me to plant many many things already.

    Thanks Valerie, that made my day! It might be considered a bad influence about yet more flowers, but more food is a good thing. There is nothing more local than your own space, and remember, Local Is The New Black! πŸ™‚

  17. skeeter says:

    What great memories of your gardens past. Last year I gave up on veggies except for tomaotes. They just do not do well for me in this yard. Probably because I give the best areas to the flowers instead…

    Hi Skeeter, thanks so much for visiting and happy third blogaversary! Even in they are the only veggie, tomatoes are worthy of your finest garden space. πŸ™‚

  18. Genevieve says:

    Frances, I love your garden memories. I’m trying to remember to take lots of photos so I will have my own garden scrapbook to look back on!

    Thanks Genevieve! Do take lots of garden shots. We are good with the people shots, lots of those. It is a wonder there were any garden shots, it was back in the day of pay per picture and money was tight. Digital cameras and computers have certainly changed photography. Be sure to back up those pixels! πŸ™‚

  19. ourfriendben says:

    What a wonderful, edible trip down memory lane, Frances! We just composted our veggie beds and have everything ready to go—if ONLY it would finally warm up here! But yes, we must be patient until May. Especially love the photo of you on the bench. Thanks for sharing!

    Hellloooo OFB!!! So nice to see you, thanks for visiting! I know that feeling of being ready but having to wait. Even though it is nearly 90 degrees here, there will be another freeze, blackberry winter before things can be planted safely. I have learned the hard way, over and over. You will wait because you are smart. πŸ™‚

  20. dowhatyoulove says:

    Wow, you have had the opportunity to experience many areas! All of your gardens look beautiful. Isn’t it wonderful growing food of your own? I can’t wait for our growing season to start!! So exciting!

    We have been lucky enough to live in a variety of places, the best way to really get to know an area is to live there at least a year. That is how long it takes for it to feel like home, until the next move, anyway. I am glad you like seeing the gardens. Growing food is so satisfying, for the soul and the stomach. πŸ™‚

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