Patch of Plenty

How does her garden grow? With cukes and apples, chard and lovage, and pretty sunflowers all in a row


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A Birmingham homeowner’s gardening workstation brims with vintage watering cans, spools of twine, plant markers, a journal, and more.

Photos by Cybelle Codish

 Eclectic and stylish, historic and decorated with a variety of collections, there’s a lovely Birmingham abode that’s most definitely welcoming — it’s a place where, if you were a guest, you’d likely settle in, indulge in fresh-baked lemon scones (served on French pottery), and peruse old cookbooks while listening to the homeowner’s knitting needles click-click as she turns out a cozy sweater or hat.

But the best room in this house isn’t indoors — it’s the glorious garden.

Petite, charming, and brimming with everything from flowers to vegetables and fruits, the space pulls you in like bees to salvia, with the calming sound of trickling water, flitting butterflies, and enchanting vignettes such as the one in which a vintage, bright-red metal chair is casually placed near apples dangling from a delicate branch. (Those apples, incidentally, hang on a tree that was trained to grow horizontally, in espalier fashion; the method was developed in 16th-century France by gardeners who wanted fruit trees but didn’t have the proper climate, so they created a pruning technique that would allow the normally large trees to fit into small areas such as along a fence or wall. Espalier pruning continues to be popular in Europe, and is now common around the world — including right here, in this gardening haven.)

The homeowners have lived in this Tudor-style home for 33 years and, from “Day 1,” the lady of the house says, they started focusing on the landscaping.   

“The first thing we did was actually transplanting all the tall, big ferns and putting them in one area,” she says. “Then we put in lots of boxwood.” When the couple’s children were small, they enjoyed play equipment and dug in a sandbox in the backyard. Then, about nine years ago, the homeowners’ children grown, they decided to build a garden.



From left: The brick garage becomes intriguing with euonymous — three plants that have been trained and trimmed to create eight open squares which have been filled with mirrors and this cement planter. A variety of lettuce greens. A sweet-smelling dwarf jasmine tree.
 

“It’s a huge commitment, particularly if you want it to look nice,” the “chief gardener” says. “Even though I’m into substance, I want it to look cool, too.” She’s also fond of the idea of sustainable living and producing her own food. “As I was pretty much done nurturing the children, I’m now nurturing plants. It’s relaxing, it’s quiet, and I love to be outside,” she says.

Her bounty of deliciousness includes a variety of lettuces, nasturtium, broccoli, zucchini, squash, heirloom and cherry tomatoes, kale, cucumbers, and the aforementioned apples. Mint, small-leaf basil, strawberries, chives, oregano, summer savory tarragon, and more round out the edible goodies.    

On one late summer’s day, she meanders amid her green-thumb successes. Tall row markers (created by a French potter and purchased at Detroit Garden Works in Sylvan Lake) tower above the diminutive gardener as she studies her apples. Staring at them as if they were spheres of gold, she says, “It’s ridiculous that they’re that gorgeous.” And then, sounding like Mr. McGregor, she adds, “If a squirrel gets them, I’ll be so mad.”

She then checks on her lettuces, searching for ingredients for a lunch or dinner salad. “I’ll mix Bibb, romaine, and red-leaf lettuces with kale and Swiss chard. Then I’ll add maybe chopped tarragon, thyme, and basil, and I’ll put some broccoli in.” The dressing? Nothing but olive oil, a splash of lemon, and salt and pepper. “We’ll add chicken or salmon that we’ll grill out,” she continues. Pure palatability.

Among the edibles, delphinium, lady’s mantle, peonies, begonias, and sunflowers show off their bright hues not only to add color, but to give the garden some texture, too. In the spring, pretty tulips adorn the yard.

Unusual embellishments include various twines (“I love twine, I collect string,” the homeowner says, “and use it for tying things in the garden or for little gifts.”) and fabric (wrapped around the garden’s gate) that evoke a Bohemian appeal. “The fence looks Jamaican-ish,” she adds.  

Near the fence, her beloved water-feature trough gurgles pleasantly. It was given to her by three of her best friends for her birthday.



Tall row markers from Detroit Garden Works adorn the bountiful garden.
 

“I added a solar-powered pump to the trough. That keeps the water moving; I like to hear the sound of water,” she says. She explains that she also uses the water for any number of gardening tasks.   

Inspirations, challenges, and success stories are documented in a garden journal. “I’ll ask Marlene (Uhlianuk), who has a booth at the farmers market (Oakland County Market in Waterford) what to do about certain things that don’t come up,” the gardener says. “She always knows.” And if she gets too much of a good thing, like basil that “starts to go leggy,” she’ll turn it into something else she can use — if there’s an overabundance of basil, for instance, she’ll whip up a batch of pesto (“I’ll freeze it and enjoy it later in the year,” she says.)

As for her favorite part of her plentiful patch? She says there isn’t a No. 1 element. “I love the whole thing all together; it’s the mixture,” she says with a smile.



From left: Lunch is ready with delectable greens from the garden served on favorite French dishware by Helene Paris, “a potter whom I met in a market in Provence. She only goes to two markets — Loumarin and her hometown of Cucuron,” the homeowner shares. The ever-bearing perennial strawberry plant is attractive to squirrels — “it’s a race to see who eats them first, me or the squirrels—  and the ripe ones rarely make it into the house.” Strings and things for the gardener’s everyday tasks.

 

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