Sneak Peek Garden Visit: an inspiring front yard harvest in northern California

Kerry's Spring HarvestWhile my dear friend Kerry was away on vacation, I looked after her beautiful garden and in return, I enjoyed a springtime harvest of fresh broccoli, fava beans, lacinato kale, peas and cauliflower. Honestly, I think I have the better end of this deal: delicious homegrown organic vegetables in exchange for a wee bit of work (watching for aphids). Sign. Me. Up. This is pure bliss!

Kerry's Pea BlossomsAren’t these delicate pea blossoms lovely?

Kerry's Peas 3

Here in northern California, mild winters make it possible to grow a host of edibles all year round. In addition to growing a wide range of vegetables in her front yard, Kerry and her husband Fred also grow strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, Meyer lemons, apricots, pluots, peaches, passion fruit, figs and several varieties of apples – all in their small, but sunny Palo Alto backyard.

Kerry's Moorpark Apricot Tree

These developing Moorpark Apricots will be ready to harvest in June. 

While Kerry and I are both advocates of growing food rather than lawns, she is far more experienced and successful. Ever since we first met (via a plant ad on Craigslist!), I’ve admired her and her beautiful garden, and every time I visit, I learn something new.

Kerry's BroccoliWhen the weather turns warmer, Kerry will replace the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage with sweet corn and Australian blue pumpkins – all grown from seed.

Kerry's cauliflowerKerry grows the bulk of her vegetables in beautiful raised beds of staggered heights that she designed to complement their Mediterranean style home. The automatic drip irrigation system (that she installed herself) conserves water and prevents weed growth.

Kerry & Fred's Front Yard 1

Following the wise advice of edible landscape guru Rosalind Creasy, Kerry layers her vegetables between a host of colorful ornamentals. Much to my delight, there isn’t a single blade of grass in Kerry’s front yard. Rather than complain, Kerry’s neighbors describe her has an “inspiration.” I couldn’t agree more.

Kerry & Fred's front yard 3

 Kale, peas and fava beans grow behind colorful drifts of nasturtiums and …

Kerry's poppies

self-sowing California poppies.

Kerry's Fava Beans

Fava beans (Vicia faba), my favorite spring time vegetable, planted with fragrant freesias.

Kerry & Fred's front yard 2

When grown in front of a porch, Fava beans provide privacy as well as food. In the foreground, Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) display new spring growth; by summer they’ll measure three feet tall and wide and will be covered in purple flowers.

Kerry's Favas with ant

– Fava bean blossoms –

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and would like to see more of Kerry and Fred’s inspiring Palo Alto garden (as well as other local gardens), learn more about growing your own food and get great ideas for your own garden, I encourage you to register for and attend Common Ground’s upcoming 8th Annual Edible Landscaping Tour to be held on Saturday, July 19th, 2014 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Tickets are $35 per person and all funds raised benefit the Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto, California. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

Kerry's KaleLacinato kale harvested from Kerry’s front yard was put to use in my favorite winter “rainbow” salad and added as a garnish to homemade chicken soup. De-lish!

Winter Rainbow Raw Kale Salad

Combine chopped lacinato kale, the juice of one Meyer lemon (or one orange), a splash of Meyer lemon infused olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly cracked black pepper in a large bowl and toss well. Massage the kale and let marinate at room temperature one hour before serving. Add thinly sliced red cabbage, peeled segments of pink grapefruit (or oranges), sunflower seeds as well as roasted, peeled and quartered beets. Thinly sliced red onion is also a good in this salad. Rainbow swiss chard can be substituted for kale, but won’t need to be massaged. Enjoy!

Friday Flora & Fresh Air

Fuyu Persimmons 2Prior to living in northern California, I’d never tasted a persimmon. 

Hachiya Persimmon with leavesSix years later, it simply doesn’t feel like autumn, much less Thanksgiving or Christmas, without them.

Hachiya Persimmon branches 1

Hachiya Persimmons 5Most of the neighborhoods around here, at least those with older homes, have one or two trees like this on almost every street. It makes for a beautiful landscape, though somewhat surreal if, like me, you didn’t grow up in this climate.

Hachiya Persimmons with leaves 1Hachiya Persimmon TreeThe first time I saw a persimmon tree, branches dripping with bright orange fruit, I was dumbfounded. I’d never seen anything like it. Soon afterwards, a friend happily shared her bounty and more importantly, some persimmon eating wisdom …

Fuyu Persimmons 1

Fuyu persimmons – the squat looking ones in the image above – are best enjoyed while they’re hard and crisp, often peeled, cut up and served in an autumnal fruit salad.

Hachiya Persimmons 2

Conversely, Hachiya persimmons – the more heart shaped variety – aren’t ready to eat until they’re fully ripe, in which case they’ll feel soft like a water balloon. Odd as it may seem, the jelly-like pulp is delicious. I love it spooned over yogurt, mixed into vanilla ice cream and added to baked goods like James Beard’s Persimmon Bread. Moreover, the pulp freezes beautifully (you can even freeze whole fruit), which is what I’m doing at this very moment, so this Christmas I can make First Lady Nancy Reagan’s decadent Steamed Persimmon Pudding with Brandy Whipped Cream Sauce. I can hardly wait!

Have a wonderful weekend!