Well, from the coast of Maine last week and all the way to the other side of the country today, I am loving the garden tours that are pouring in. Every one of them gorgeous! Today I'm so pleased to bring you this garden tour from Rachel in Washington. I think Rachel speaks so well to the peace and sanctuary that the garden provides to so many of us living full and busy lives. And she has great and practical advice on making sure it stays that way - a peaceful, productive refuge. I'm sure you'll enjoy her words and photographs as much as I have.
Welcome to Rachel's garden!
Fall City, Washington
1/4 of an acre
Why do you garden?
After being in an office all day I enter the garden to do a little weeding or planting and get instant decompression. Besides that, it’s the very best produce we can have for our family and it makes our meals meaningful. It’s also a simple way to spend time together.
How long have you been gardening?
How would you describe your garden?
Our mini homestead is situated on an exact half acre in Fall City, Washington, a small town near Seattle. We have a collection of heritage fruit trees, a flock of chickens, and four gardeners (two of the large and two of the small varieties). The edible garden is inspired by permaculture principles and designed to welcome children as foragers and helpers. Overall, I’d describe the garden as a little wild, down to earth, and eclectic. Definitely a hippie garden. Since we only have around 5 hours a week to work on the garden the focus is on a low-maintenance perennial border with an enclosed area for smaller, rotating beds. I tend to let volunteer plants do their thing, this means there are bonus flowers and herbs sprouting here and there. The look this creates is casual and fuss-free. The contrast of this aesthetic against structured borders and fencing is lovely.
The garden is composed of two main areas. First, the annual vegetable garden is composed of a flexible system of semi-raised beds that rotate crops throughout the season. The annual garden is approximately 200 square feet and is enclosed by a reclaimed wood fence. The paths are lined with straw for ease of weeding and to keep small feet clean. It is ringed by cutting flowers for the kids to sell out on the road.
The second section of the edible garden has been deemed “berry boulevard,” as you can snack your way down the 120-foot bed. The bed is a long and narrow edible perennial border, beautiful across seasons and home to birds during the winter. Plantings include berries (raspberries and blueberries above, strawberries below), fruit trees for structure, and alliums, rhubarb, elderberry, angelica, and herbs of all kinds.
Both planting areas are edged with a hand-formed concrete curb to keep the lawn from creeping into the beds. This delineation and structure give the garden an organized feel, even as it matures into the late-summer frenzy of sunflowers and tomatoes.
Where do you go for gardening inspiration?
I’ve been loving Floret and other farm-to-market flower growers. Flowers are sort of taking over the garden right now since I can’t get enough of bringing them into the house. For vegetable gardening I also like watching small farms (Working Hands Farm is gorgeous!). I’m not working at that scale, but seeing those lush rows also makes me happy and inspired.
What are your favorite gardening books or resources?
I love the idea of the traditional kitchen gardens our grandmothers kept: useful herbs and the family’s favorite dinner additions right out the door. Those gardens tended to have an enclosure (traditionally a simple picket fence).
Lately I have been reading books on hedgerow (recommend A Natural History of the Hedgrow) and permaculture (Restoration Agriculture). At first it might seem that those don’t apply to a kitchen garden, but the principles of long-term sustainability and a semi-handsoff approach is really appealing. I also have some old books on traditional medicinal and kitchen gardens that are inspiring. Larry Weaner also does amazing work –he blends natural principles with aesthetics.
What’s your biggest gardening challenge?
Overall, it’s time management. I always take on more than I can realistically manage. At one point the garden was three times as large as it is now and the amount of food that created was ridiculous. I could have fed the neighborhood and didn’t have time to preserve all of it. So much went to waste and it broke my heart. Scaling back has made it more enjoyable and manageable.
In the garden, I have two mortal enemies: Slugs and Morning glory. It’s a constant battle that I don’t always win. For the slugs, I use a natural granulitic and that works pretty well. In the Northwest it gets washed away pretty quickly and I can count on a certain amount of sacrificial seedlings. Eventually the heat helps keep the slugs down and I just hope the plants grow fast enough to not be as affected by them.
Morning glory is just a matter of persistence. As long as it doesn’t strangle the plants I just keep removing it by digging it out. When that doesn’t work, ripping it out eventually weakens the roots and it isn’t as aggressive.
What’s your biggest garden accomplishment?
Feeding the family all summer! Every time I pass by produce at the store and buy nothing I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.
What do you most love to grow?
Right now it’s flowers. They give back in such a luxurious way - the inside of the house feels like the outside and I get to enjoy the garden more fully. Herbs are also great since they can last into Fall and come back in the Spring, so there is a little freshness in the kitchen almost year round.
If you have children, what role do they play in your gardening?
When they were little (they are 7 and 10 now) it was hit or miss with the kids - sometimes they “helped” by weeding the seedlings and that was sort of hilarious and frustrating. Now, they browse the garden and eat, which is exactly what I’m hoping they will do. They love “assignments” from the garden which is to make a flower arrangement for the kitchen, or gather herbs for morning omelettes.
The kids also like to plant: I will give them handfuls of easy seeds to plant wherever they want. Sunflowers, nasturtiums and cilantro a good candidates because they grow anywhere and are easy to spot so you don’t weed them out on accident.
Can you share one or two of your favorite gardening tips?
Less of a tip and more of a philosophy…I’ve learned that taking a long-term view of the garden is key to enjoyment. I used to have this sense of urgency to “get the starts in now or I’ll miss my planting window!” or “I need to grow that variety this year!”. Learning to taking notes for next year and relax has really helped me to watch the garden grow and just enjoy what I have at that moment.
More practically, I have moved away from paper seed packets. They always drove me nuts in that they get dirty, wet or just don’t close properly. I purchased some small, sealable bags, put my extra seeds in them then write the variety and year onto the bag. Now they are dry, organized and much easier to handle.
I used to battle weeds and feel defeated when they got the best of the garden. Over the past few seasons I have made a habit of letting a few key plants go to seed: borage, carrots, kale, cilantro, and parsley. I leave these volunteers throughout the season and they help to crowd out the undesirable volunteers (dandelions, grasses, and morning glory).
We also switched to laying straw in the paths to suppress weeds, which has been a huge time saver. And I’ve learned to grow just the right amount to keep the family fed for the summer. I don’t always have time to can and preserve, so this avoids having to compost the lovely veggies we can’t eat.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I work as a designer in Seattle, but live in the Snoqualmie Valley with my husband, two kids (Leif - 10, Io - 7) and 13 chickens. I love my work but find it so important to contrast my hectic, corporate work life with a small, simple, handmade household where we are focused on time together. My creative heart-project is PotionKit - handmade kid’s potion mixing kits. This started with a single kit for my daughter and has grown as a project where I can share my belief in providing kids beautiful, high quality (no plastic!) toys that are totally unique and memorable.
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Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your garden!
(If you'd like to share your garden with us this season, send me an email for more details.)