Gourmet Gardens

By Mary Beth Schwartz

Today’s kitchen gardens combine food preparation areas with the elements of structured design

Having been through the snowstorms of 2010, our minds turn to thoughts of spring. Nothing says spring more than gardening. This year, more and more Lehigh Valley gardeners will decide to plant their own kitchen gardens—to save money, eat healthier vegetables, fruits, and herbs, and of course to be en vogue.

According to Kitchen Gardeners International, kitchen gardeners love food, both the product and process. They plan months ahead of time. They are in tune with nature. They are stewards of the land. Kitchen gardeners understand where good food comes from, how it is produced. They search for food that is local, seasonal, authentic, and minimally processed. And these Good Life seekers are persistent.

By implementing structure, the kitchen garden will look much nicer than a cut-out square or rectangle in the middle of your yard

Kitchen Gardeners International’s founder Roger Doiron spent 14 months on a campaign for a new kitchen garden at the White House. In March of 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama and Chef Sam Kass broke ground on a 1,100-square-foot-garden, which included organic mint, lettuces, berries, and perennial herbs, as well as a beehive for making honey. The harvest of the White House Kitchen Garden was used in the White House kitchen as well as a local soup kitchen. Located on the White House’s South Lawn, it is the first garden planted since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden during World War II.

For first-time kitchen gardeners, presidential or otherwise, Doiron recommends The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch; The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith; and The Family Kitchen Garden: How to Plant, Grow, and Cook Together by Karen Liebreich. “KGI’s Website (www.kitchengardeners.org) also offers over 500 pages of content, much of it of interest to new gardeners, but even more valuable is the experience and generosity of our members. Our site has forums and social networking features built into it that allow gardeners to connect with and learn from each other, no matter where they are located geographically or in terms of their level,” Doiron says.

Starting a kitchen garden can be a snap with the Lehigh Valley’s Joanne Kostecky Garden Design Inc. Kostecky, APLD, has held such prestigious titles as president of the American Nursery and Landscape Association, as well as president of the National Landscape Association.

“We have designed what I call food production areas. We design the space and prepare the soil. Clients do their own planting of vegetables and herbs. Part of the joy of a garden is planting it and watching it grow,” Kostecky says.

According to Kostecky, for a new gardener, it is difficult to remove the sod and prepare the soil. “We remove the sod, rototill, bring in organic matter or topsoil, and rerototill. The soil here in the Lehigh Valley is very compact; it is clay based. A plant will grow better if there is aeration of the soil; the plants’ roots need oxygen. Clay is dense and retains moisture. Organic matter and topsoil give less clay to work with. If you are doing a raised bed, there is no clay at all—only good topsoil and organic matter. The result is bigger vegetables and healthier plants. You can see the difference with soil preparation,” Kostecky says.

But soil preparation is not the only element of a kitchen garden. All gardens need a structured design. Quite often the gardens are part of complete outdoor living rooms. “You want to have some structure to the space so that it is a more attractive area. You can actually take people to the food production area. A formal design works very well with a kitchen garden—a central axis with four quadrants and paths between the four quadrants, with the planting in the four corners. In the middle of the circle you can do a teepee with a pole bean or a zucchini or something decorative like a clematis line or topiary—something that is the focal point of the kitchen garden,” Kostecky says. “By implementing structure—nice paths, raised beds with 10-inch-high stone walls, etc.—the kitchen garden will look much nicer than a cut-out square or rectangle in the middle of your yard,” Kostecky adds.

Once the kitchen garden is designed and the soil prepped, annual maintenance is easily achieved by the homeowner. “For those who want to start a garden, start plants from seeds indoors in early March. The plants will need a sufficient light source to grow. About the middle of May, they can be planted outdoors,” Kostecky says.

For gardeners with limited planting space, balconies, decks, and patios are great for growing tomatoes and fresh herbs in containers. The Herb Society of America (www.herbsociety.org) offers tips on planting herbs—common types, cultivation and propagation, pruning and harvesting, winter protection, and much more.

If you realize by now that you will never have a green thumb, don’t fret. You can get your fresh produce fix by visiting local farmers markets, joining an organic co-op, or better yet—having fresh herbs and veggies grown by a fine Lehigh Valley restaurant. The Farmhouse in Emmaus “offers an exquisite dining experience, using the freshest local ingredients in a charming country setting.” The farm-to-table philosophy is apparent in Chef Michael Adams’ distinctive and delicious fare. According to Adams, the garden includes sunchokes (used in several fall dishes), as well as kale, swiss chard, mint, rosemary, basil, chives, parsley, thyme, sage, lemongrass, sorrel, horseradish root, and nasturtiums.

The Glasbern Country Inn in Fogelsville has its own farm, the Glasbern Farm. The Glasbern raises grassfed Scottish Highland cattle, large black pigs, ducks, chickens (meat and eggs), goats, Katahdin sheep, and Milking Devons. A new micro dairy will produce cheese, yogurt, milk, cream, butter, and ice cream for the restaurant as well as the public. Beyond the animals, there are fruit trees, berries, and veggies of all kinds. Two wood-heated greenhouses keep the kitchen furnished with greens for the winter, and grow spring seedlings to be transplanted after the frost. In this warm climate grow strawberries, spinach, micro greens, chard, kale, collards, carrots, onions, garlic, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, tomatoes, basil, oregano, chives, shallots, leeks, beets, turnips, potatoes, beans, peas, radishes; the list is endless.

So whether you make a call to a landscape designer, visit a garden center, or have a fine meal, spring ahead on making a kitchen garden part of your lifestyle.


Consult these resources when beginning your designer garden
1449 Chestnut Street, Emmaus, PA 18049
2141 Packhouse Road, Fogelsville, PA 18051
4095 Hamilton Boulevard
Allentown, PA 18106
Mary Beth Schwartz is a noted former home and garden editor.

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