The pandemic has spurred a demand for edible gardens which, more than a year later, has continued to grow.
When Florie Hutchinson first visited his home in Palo Alto, the yard was one of his main selling points. Sitting on two-thirds of an acre, the property offered far more outdoor opportunities than her family’s previous residence on what she calls “a postage stamp lot.”
âI had always hoped to grow an edible garden,â says Hutchinson, journalist for arts and culture institutions. “The pandemic propelled me into action.” And she is hardly alone. Last spring, with depleted shelves and locks in place, the Victory Gardens – which were popular during World Wars I and II, when Americans were encouraged to grow their own food – made a comeback. But even though food supplies and public outings have rebounded since the onset of COVID-19, interest in growing one’s own food remains strong.
Unprecedented, according to Food-Forward Bay Area Landscape Designer Christian douglas, who is busier than he has ever been in his 25-year career. âWe just got overwhelmed,â he says. Not only did his firm Christian Douglas Design stop accepting new clients in January, but today 100% of its efforts include a food component. âBefore the pandemic,â he recalls, âit was a more difficult sale.â
Some clients increased the bet, hiring Douglas to work with a longer bow. âThese are multigenerational legacy projects,â he says. âThe goal is to create a 100-year plan – something that will be there for their children and their children’s children.â
For Hutchinson, who brought in San Francisco-based Ground Cover Landscaping, the intention is to “feed our family – not deer or turkeys – with so much fresh produce all year round, while raising children who appreciate the life cycle and the work involved. in the food we eat. The mother of four young girls notes, “They are slowly reaching the age when chores can be assigned, and I fully anticipate that looking after the garden will be part of that.”
Its recently installed program includes seven boxes full of fruits and vegetables; a row of fruit trees; and round planters filled with a variety of herbs. Although Hutchinson has no previous gardening experience, she welcomes the challenge. In this regard, it is not an outlier.
Stefani Bittner, the founder of Homestead Design Collective and co-author of The Beautiful Edible Garden: Designing a Stylish Outdoor Space Using Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs, and Harvesting: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants, has a handful of new clients who have just purchased property outside of San Francisco – hence the foray into gardening. âThey’re totally new to living in an area where they have more outdoor space and can grow food, so they’re really excited about that,â she says.
Connecting with nature in a utilitarian way is a win-win, especially during a pandemic. âAs everyone filled their pantries,â Bittner observes, âI think they realized that if they had things in their garden that they could eat, how wonderful it could be. There is much more appreciation for garden spaces. “
When chef and restaurateur Jesse Cool opened the Flea Street CafÃ© in Menlo Park over 40 years ago, she built an edible garden on site. Its benefits have indeed been amplified over the past year. âIt brought a sense of calm and comfort,â says Cool, who also runs Cool CafÃ© at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center and once taught a garden cooking program at the university. “Every night it’s the sweetest thing: you see all the different cooks coming out cutting.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Cool has fortified his own yard, adding a salad box and an herb garden. The restaurant currently has six boxes and two more to come. Both locations bounty includes âTaste of the Season,â small bites that start every Flea Street dinner. In the weeks to come, Cool hopes to harvest cherry-sized tomatoes and tiny fairy-tale eggplants (âlittle veggies grow fasterâ). Flea Street Garden also produces culinary herbs, edible flowers and species of tea.
Gardeners in the Bay Area are fortunate enough to produce food all four seasons. âThe key to any item in the garden is knowing how to place it based on its growing condition – the amount of light you get, the quality of the soil and making sure you have access to water,â Bittner explains. .
Douglas refers to green salads – lettuce, chard, kale, spinach, arugula – and many culinary herbs as “the easiest of the easiest” to grow. Bittner suggests that every garden in the Bay Area has a Meyer lemon tree, although she notes that citrus fruits are especially in demand these days. Both professionals stress the importance of considering bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators in edible landscaping.
When planning a garden, Bittner also recommends diversifying your plantings so that there is always something to harvest. “What do you want to eat in two months?” she says. âThink about what your favorite things are and also leave room for experimentation. People tend to be obsessed with tomatoes, but there are so many other things. Your morning cup of tea from your own garden is pretty amazing.
Ask for help
In addition to landscape design and installation, Christian Douglas Design and Stefani Bittner’s Homestead Design Collective offer maintenance services. Douglas also operates The Backyard Farm Company in Marin, which specializes in garden maintenance and education, including online courses and virtual consultations.
Another excellent resource is the nearby nursery, whose staff are probably familiar with the microclimate and its effects on the plantations. Douglas, who resides in San Francisco and Marin, is a fan of Sloat Garden Center, which has locations in both regions as well as the East Bay. For specialty herbs and perennials, Bittner’s Lafayette-based go-to is Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville.