Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I love this French term for a kitchen garden.

I first planted vegetables and herbs at the house in the summer of 1990. Len and I had met the previous July, just before I started law school. Soon after I arrived in L.A. from Ohio for my job as a summer law clerk at the Writers Guild of America, west, I decided he needed to have more growing in his yard than a neglected orange tree. At that time, there was a sizable patio out side the kitchen door which had a large picnic table on it. There was a strip of dirt about a foot wide along the fence and I figured I could try to add a few herbs and maybe a tomato plant or two there.

It worked pretty well. The rosemary I planted that summer grew pretty large and an English lavender plant eventually took over one corner. I may have even gotten a tomato or two off the vines before I headed back to Cleveland in the fall. The next summer I added a few more things and I remember that when my friend Anna Todeschini visited from Italy with her family, her husband was very impressed that I had basil growing.

Len and I got married on Christmas in 1991, so I got an earlier start on the garden in 1992. I planted a number of things in containers because the physical space for in-ground planting didn't change until the Northridge earthquake of 1994. We had to have a lot of things fixed and I thought it was a fine time to get rid of most of the concrete patio on the kitchen side of the house. So the workmen came with a jack-hammer and I wound up with something close to a 10 x 10 plot of dirt instead of concrete.

The rosemary survived the earthquake repairs and a fence replacement (at one time I thought about asking Bernie Wrightson to create a Swamp Thing topiary frame for it) but it finally gave up the ghost the year before our fire. The lavender lasted until the garden area clean-up this spring, when we moved the fence to give us a much larger space on the west side of the house. Moving the fence did not disturb the two grape vines I put in about 10 years ago. They are spreading like crazy and look like they will have abundant bunches of Thompson Seedless and Flame grapes by the time Comic-Con rolls around in July.

The original orange tree is still here, along with a lemon tree I planted the first year we were married. I added roses six or seven years ago, and all five plants survived the fire and a year of neglect to produce like mad this spring. I've got two artichoke plants, and even a ruthless cutting back has not prevented a number of choke heads from forming. (I love artichokes, but nobody told me they attract earwigs like nothing else I've ever seen.)

Our new landscaper had his workers build me two raised beds where my in-ground garden used to be. I spent the weekend replanting the potager. I am so excited, because the space looks lovely and I can't wait to just sit outside with my laptop to watch humming birds enjoy some Mexican sage under my kitchen window.The photograph above shows you what things look like from the kitchen door. I've put some herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, mints and nasturtium) into the spaces in the cement blocks and it looks like they're going to take. I planted a variety of tomatoes and basil in the near bed, along with two kinds of strawberries and parsley. In the far bed, there are corn, beans, pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, dill and tarragon. I hope to be able to stay mostly dry when I need herbs during the wet months out here. In the past, the rosemary was along the fence and it was a muddy walk to get some in January.

I've got three different kinds of mint in large pots on wheels and a beautiful bay laurel which will need a bigger pot soon. I'm planning to put giant sunflowers along the fence, which will make some birds very happy later this year. I've got more rosemary in a border garden under the kitchen window, along with sage, chives, and the afore-mentioned Mexican sage for the hummers.

We're planning on turning this area into an extension of the kitchen by keeping the propane grill on this side of the house (rather than on the patio out the living room door where it has been for years.) It makes it easier to get from and to the kitchen and is a great alternative to a hot summer day cooking indoors.

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