Lisa's Victory Garden
by Lisa Kiefert-Inzerillo
(Staten Island, NY)
Phlox, lettuce, sedum and daylillies (shoots and buds are edible) circle our magnolia tree.
Our home is on a 40' x 100' lot a stone's throw from NYC. For years, we had the typical postage-sized squares of lawn and a few bushes. An avid gardener, I'm inspired by WWII Victory gardens, potagers (French kitchen gardens), and edible front yard gardens in CA. A visit on my 30th birthday to a recreated medieval monk's garden had a profound effect on me. Every plant was either useful or medicinal, and the garden as a whole was breathtaking. The fantasy to create a similar garden simmered on the back-burner of my mind for many years.
In 2008, my husband decided to remove our old, cracked concrete and install pavers. I knew that this was my opportunity to create my dream garden. My backyard is shady, so I couldn't grow the herbs, tomatoes and sun-loving vegetables that I wanted. The front of my house gets blazing sun all day long. My husband didn't hesitate - he was thrilled about no longer having to cut the grass! Our contractors excavated the entire front of our property including cement, roots and grass. We installed the pavers in a gently curving path, rather than the straight line of concrete that previously led from the sidewalk to the door. We added new topsoil and amended our heavy, rocky clay soil with our own compost, peat moss and manure. Our plant budget was tight. I ordered roses, lavender and boxwood plants from Ebay. The 15 boxwoods were sticks when they arrived, but filled out to become a lush, thriving divider in less than a year. Friends gave me cuttings - thyme, lamb's ears, sage - which were divided as they grew, and planted in patterns. Everything else was started from seed. Lettuce, spinach, carrots and basil made for quick-growing and decorative early groundcovers. We're proud to say that we've replaced one species (grass) with over a hundred varieties of plants (I keep a list!) Some plants are permanent residents, but most are rotated to prevent soil diseases and maximize our harvest. I try not to plant the same type of plant (cabbage, tomatoes) in the same spot every season. Thus, the garden is always evolving and always a work in progress. Edible flowers like pansies, borage, sunflowers and marigolds fill in gaps and add color. Many of these return from seed every year. We're pleased to host this biodiversity in our area, and to provide a place for various insects and birds to stop and enjoy.
On any given night from March until December, you'll see me out with my colander gathering the ingredients for dinner. What's available in the garden dictates what we eat. Eggplants, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes and cucumbers are a few of our favorites. I add them to soups, pasta dishes and stir-fries. We use the long, fragrant stems of our rosemary bushes as skewers for shish kebabs. We have a fresh salad every evening while it's in season. My greatest luxury is to wander out on Thanksgiving morning and gather the herbs for our family meal. Sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano are still abundant and make a wonderful stuffing. It is a true gift of wealth and abundance, and for this I'm very grateful.
At first, our neighbors didn't 'get' the garden, since it's the only one like it in our area (as far as I know). A few told me that it was 'weird', and one said that she saw me 'out playing in the weeds' again. Now that it has matured, our neighbors are overwhelmingly positive! People leave secret gifts of seed-packs and baby plants on our steps. The most enthusiastic response was the donation of a magnolia tree from a very handsome and distinguished elderly man who lives around the corner. Always impeccably dressed in a suit, he stops by to chat every evening when he walks his dog. He was a friend of Jack LaLanne, and invites us to 'feel his muscles'. We recently removed an old, dying maple. He bought an extra tree, realized that he didn't have enough room for it, and wanted to gift it to us. I warned him not to carry that big tree over by himself! I told him to let my husband come and get it. Sure enough, the tree was in our driveway in the morning.
My husband is thrilled about the garden and the money it saves. He never hesitates to comment on how colorful it looks when we pull up to the house. We're glad that our 10 year-old daughter has had the experience of growing and harvesting her own food. She knows the names of all of the plants, and educates her friends too! She always chooses fruits and vegetables over junk foods, and wants to become a chef when she grows up.
The latest edition to our yard is an espalier - a two-level living fence. It supports grape vines and apple trees, which are trained to grow sideways along a wire. It has almost covered the wires completely in its second year, and we have a large harvest of grapes ripening. Wine making may be our next venture!
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