Loretta Allison, Spade and Seeds, and Christina Wenger, A Thinking Stomach, have set out to find gardeners who can teach us how to live better in our outdoor spaces. Home gardeners who have designed their own spaces—large or small—in ways that feed their homes and their spirits draw us to them. We figure we’re hungry to learn from them, so you might be also. Join us in our occasional series as we explore their spaces.
Text by Christina Wenger
Photography by Paul Delmont
Art direction by Loretta Allison
Art direction by Loretta Allison
|Raised beds hold garlic, onions, burdock, tree collards, carrots, and strawberries.|
Janice is showing me around her yard, and for a moment, her mother steps out to join us. We haven’t made it far out the back door, because I have lots of questions, but her mom stops near us and shows me how in the evening she pulls weeds from the beds and lays them in a small pile for pill bugs and slugs to hide in. In the morning, she takes the weeds, pests and all, and tosses them, away from where they can cause any more damage to the garden.
|Janice and Tim Kubo and Janice's mother, Yoshie Mitsuhashi, in front|
of their kumquat and orange trees.
This garden is a team effort, directed by Janice and her mother, supported by the labor of Tim, Janice’s husband, and driven and inspired by the need for healthy, organic food to help counteract the many food allergies Tim and Janice’s son experiences. Though the focus of the garden is food and herbal medicines, the garden is beautiful and clearly influenced by the family’s Japanese heritage. Janice tells me she’s proud of how her family has rallied together to build this garden, and that each of them “gets it,” how they’re working together for each other and the planet. She tells me “growing food is a joy” and “it’s fun to harvest what you grow, put it on a table, and eat it.” More than she expected, she’s happy to have inspired her friends and neighbors to grow more of their own food.
One bed in this area is taller than the others, and when Janice waves her arm around the garden as a whole, I can see a few others are taller as well. These beds are raised higher than the others because the family is experimenting with hugelkultur, a permaculture strategy in which a bed covers a pile of wood and brush debris. As the wood decomposes under the soil, it works as both fertilizer and a means of water-retention in our dry climate.
| Edible Saxifraga stolonifera serves|
as an attractive ground cover under
perennial tree collards.
|A garden pathway passes|
under a loquat to where a food-providing
pond will eventually be.
As we move around the satsuma tree to another part of the garden, Janice shows me more beds and fruit trees. One hugelkultur bed is full of fava beans tumbling over its edges. In full bloom, the black and white fava blossoms smell sweet and buzz with bees. Another bed has a multistory crop of tree collards with red-veined, crystalline-haired, strawberry geraniums (Saxifraga stolonifera)—commonly found as a houseplant, but in Japan used as a food plant—embroidering the deep shade of the collards. Along the side edge is a bed inhabited by a lone chayote vine, small now after winter die-back, but waiting impatiently to twist and pull itself up its trellis, covering the whole garden wall during the growing season. Two-gallon pots form the edge of this bed; each pot holds strawberry plants that will fruit in the spring. In this back corner is an old, unknown-variety fig tree that predates the family’s tenure here. With branches weeping like a trained bonsai, the tree naturally dwarfed tree produces loads of large, black fruit at the end of short-noded branches each year. Also along the back wall are a kumquat, a lemon, and a navel orange.
|Ficoide glacial, aka Ice Lettuce, started from a |
cutting Janice took at a restaurant.
|Janice grafted a scion from my Golden Russet apple|
to a tree in her front yard; the scion has "taken" and
is leafing out healthily.
Janice and her family keep this food garden lush with lots of work—when Janice isn’t at her job, she spends at least six hours a day in the garden—and with composted waste materials from their kitchen and garden. Though the back yard is the most productive and most beautiful part of the garden, the family is working to convert the front yard too, where more fruit trees (an avocado, a persimmon, an apple, and a couple peaches), a few fruiting bushes and vines, and perennial vegetable and herb crops grow in several beds that frame the lawn that is left.
|Readily reseeding red orach grows in the|
front yard, providing the salad bowl and
the neighbors a pop of color.
The lot is a fifth of an acre, houses a 1,900 square feet house, and grows so much food already, with the potential for much more. Janice tells me she hopes one day the whole lot is food-producing: “food everywhere, with just stepping stones or small paths to move around on.” The Kubo family is already well on the way towards this goal. And if beauty is food for the soul, they’re creating plenty of that, too.