I love to visit other people’s gardens when I travel. Last fall the dahlias were six feet high in Monet’s garden at Giverny. I came away longing for one of those pretty arched green bridges — but of course we don’t have a water lily pond. I’m very fond, as well, of severely symmetrical French gardens with lots of boxwood. They’re super-high maintenance so it’s probably a good thing that we don’t have a place for one.
We have a tiny four square garden where I grow most of the herbs I use for summer cooking: lots of basils, including Thai and lemon varieties which are my favorites, four or five kinds of thyme, lemongrass, oregano, flat leaf Italian parsley, tarragon, lemon verbena, chives, rosemary, marjoram. And mint! I put it in (or on) everything: mojitos, watermelon and tomato salad, salt-roasted beets, Easter pavlova with ginger-lime curd, the cucumber raita which goes with grilled lamb kebabs. It’s so refreshing. B garnishes his most of his summer cocktails with mint.
Must have garden tools: Felco shears and a good shovel. A spool of twine for tying up roses and cucumber vines. Boots for squelching through the mud. And a shaker of vodka martinis for recovering at the end of the day.
The best garden advice I ever received came from Nancy Goodwin. I asked what she did when her antique roses weren’t in bloom. She answered, “My dear, I just look elsewhere in the garden.”
I’m especially proud of our Marseilles fig tree, Jefferson’s favorite. After 7 or 8 years of fitful growth, it finally produced a magnificent harvest. The figs are green outside, pale pink inside. But you have to pick them at the moment of peak ripeness, or they’ll taste like nothing at all. That means daily warfare with flocks of fig-loving birds. They hang out in the top branches, laughing at us.
My biggest failure is the apple arch in the herb garden. We planted four heirloom apple trees in the corners of the cross path about 10 years ago. The idea was to train the trees to grow over the rebar arch that our car repair guy made: They’d be beautiful in spring bloom, then produce lots of delicious old fashioned apples that would dangle from the branches in the fall. I think we’ve picked exactly 3 apples. This year the squirrels made off with the one and only before it ever ripened.
If I could wave my wand, I’d add an acre to our property. I’d plant a tiny orchard of fruit trees, put in a swimming pool and, oh yes, plop a cocktail-yoga pavilion in a clearing in the woods. Maybe build an outdoor kitchen for “smelly cooking” like the one I saw at K Karuna’ s house in Singapore. And create a meadow so our future fleet of springer spaniels could run to their hearts’ content. Make that two acres…