Pacific Northwest | September 7, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineSeptember 7, home
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A Garden To Salivate Over
Catering to edibles, a cook makes the most of a small space
Artichokes are just one among an array of palate-pleasing possibilities to pick from in Patty Shanks-Dizard's little Wallingford garden. Herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables are used in making everything from sausage to salads to pies.
MOST OF US look at the huge, scalloped splay of a rhubarb plant and salivate over a sauce or pie. Patty Shanks-Dizard looks at the robust plant growing in a corner of her garden and pictures its shiny green leaves lining food-filled plates. That's because she's a caterer who puts her home garden to good use garnishing, flavoring and decorating meals for her clients.

I first met Patty when she responded to a column I wrote this past spring. I had no idea who owned the hefty hedge of Viburnum tinus 'Spring Bouquet' in Wallingford I wrote about so admiringly, but Patty e-mailed that she hoped her husband would forgive her for planting it now that her hedge had been celebrated in the newspaper.

Turns out he'd been fishing in Alaska when a few years ago she'd bought 25 one-gallon viburnum and started planting. The goal was to get rid of the huge, old holly trees that leaned up against her tall, 1926 brick house, lending privacy but making house and garden far too dark and crowded. Five years later she has a thick, winter-blooming hedge — and the holly trees are long gone. She invited me over to see her garden — an irresistible offer to someone who'd only admired it from the street.
Illustration Now In Bloom
The simple flower and flashy foliage of Dahlia 'Yellow Hammer' is an asset in mixed borders, while dahlias with more complex, showier flowers can be difficult to combine with other plants. When kept well-watered and fertilized, its sunny-yellow, single flowers, set off against purple-black foliage, create a focal point well into September.
Squeezed into a narrow, south-facing side garden and warmed by the brick of the old house is a tiny garden of herbs, vegetables and edible flowers Patty has planted for her business, Seattle Catering. As we tasted our way around the garden, sniffing leaves and plucking berries, she explained the uses of the many plants thriving in this 8-foot-wide garden. Her 2-year-old son, Basil (named after the saint, not the plant), tottered around moving rocks and picking leaves — this garden is not only productive but pretty indestructible.

Every square inch of space is packed with thyme, nasturtiums, chives, tomatoes and marigolds. The back fence is draped with grape vines, and one end of the little potager is curtained off from the driveway by an espaliered apple tree. At the other end is a near-monstrous fennel, underplanted with lavender. Patty makes the most of the feathery fennel, using the flat, yellow blossoms as garnishes and chopping the ferny leaves into mixtures of soft cheeses. At the end of the growing season, she harvests the licorice-tasting seeds to use in sauces and soups. The rhubarb plant comes in handy not only to line plates; its ruby stalks are turned into pies, chutneys and sauces for chicken and fish. She chops the thyme into chowders, and the marigolds are used to enliven salads as well as discourage bad bugs from chomping on the vegetables.

I'm impressed that nearly every plant in the garden has multiple uses, important when you have such little garden space with good light. A rosemary plant provides leaves to spice up sauces and stews, as well as to rub on chicken. Patty describes her favorite sage as "endlessly useful" for sausage, roasts, soups, chicken and lamb. She uses lavender blossoms in vinegars and also as a garnish "that makes the food pop right off the plate." A willowy lovage plant tastes like an intensely flavored stalk of celery, perfect to chop into green or pasta salads. A rose-scented geranium, grown large in the warm, protected garden, lends its slightly sweet yet acerbic taste to dressings and vinegars, its blossoms to decorate the plates.

Patty scavenged a decrepit wheelbarrow from a friend's junk pile and turned it into yard art. Several varieties of thyme carpet the bed of the old barrow; smaller herbs and flowers in it are elevated so they can be enjoyed close up and harvested easily. A tiny bay tree is kept to bonsai size; snapdragons, lobelia and pansies brighten up the scene.

Sometimes we forget that what we eat comes from the earth. A baby artichoke just picked from the garden, a garnish of nasturtium or chive blossom, or perhaps the tasty tang of fresh herbs is all it takes to remind us that in a few feet of sunny soil we can grow our own.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine photographer.

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