Monday, August 19, 2013

Kitchen Gardens and Culinary Heroes

Nigel Slater's London Garden
Photo via here

Where does your eye go in a garden? What draws you in? In my case, there is something about a parterre garden that has always attracted me. Its order and symmetry has a calming effect. For me, it is the equivalent of a chintz-covered armchair in front of a fireplace. My spirits are immediately soothed at the sight of those simple, evergreen shapes. The inside of the planting bed does not have to be orderly. In fact, I love a riot of flowers and plants within these orderly spaces. A loose English cottage garden style is beautiful, especially when planted in multiple areas and borders and given an outline by hedge material.

Upton Gray Garden by Gertrude Jekyll
Photo via here

Gertrude Jekyll designed her gardens that way and so did Vita Sackville-West. They created structure  as well as a romantic, loose arrangement of plant material. They achieved the best of both worlds.

My garden

And so, when it was time for us to design our new garden a few years ago, we said good-bye to the lawn and installed an informal parterre garden with four planting areas. A fountain was at the center  and gravel paths created walkways. We filled the beds with flowering plants and small citrus trees and surrounded them with hedges of Teucrium. Recently we planted a kitchen garden.  

Its location is close to the kitchen, which makes cutting herbs and vegetables for cooking very easy

The tomatoes and vegetables are not yet ready, but the herbs and lettuces are being used daily

We installed stepping stones in order to move around and get to everything easily

One of my culinary heroes, Nigel Slater, was the inspiration. His kitchen garden in London (top photo) is featured in his book Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch and when I first saw the image of that orderly and lush arrangement of vegetables, it took my breath away.  In "Tender," a cookbook that you can read from cover to cover, he recalls the creation of his garden. He is a brilliant food writer and writes exquisite prose about vegetables and cooking in the vein of Elizabeth David and M.F.K. Fisher. There is poetry here, and his descriptions of preparing food and eating it in various settings are as close to a still life painting as a narrative can get. Here he is on eggplant:

"The eggplant seduces. No other vegetable can offer flesh so soft, silken, and tender. You don't so much chew an eggplant as let it dissolve on your tongue. I fell in love at first taste: baked until its flesh has almost melted, heavy with olive oil, musky with cinnamon and allspice, cumin, and ginger, of chocolate, tobacco, and amber, heady with garlic and with a fragrance at once both ancient and mysterious.

It would be heaven to wander through his garden in the early morning, picking eggplants to cook for supper that night.


Other happenings in the garden -- right now the dahlias and zinnias are exploding!  


One big dahlia

The ever present alstroemerias seem to grow all year

Miniature orange roses

Cut flowers from the garden brighten up the kitchen

In honor of Nigel Slater and the inspiration he provided for the kitchen garden, as soon as the eggplants are ready I plan to pick them in the morning and cook them for dinner later in the day. His recipe for "Eggplants baked with tomatoes and Parmesan" from "Tender" sounds perfect.

By the way, fans of Nigel Slater's cookbooks will be happy to know that his newest book The Kitchen Diaries II: A Year of Simple Suppers is already released in the UK and will be published here in the fall. Happy cooking!


  1. Sunday your garden is beautiful! I love the "kitchen garden", how wonderful to have your herbs at your finger tips.

    And the zinias, so colorful and a beautiful long lasting bloom to bring summer and beauty into the house.

    I hope that you have a great week!

  2. I love your garden, especially your new kitchen garden. How inspiring! I have Nigel Slater's book Ripe and agree: his writing is just beautiful. I can't wait to see what you will be cooking, come harvest.

  3. What a glorious garden yours in, Sunday, and how inspiring it is to see your new kitchen garden.
    My grandmother grew zinnias. They were tall and came with us in bouquets the first week or so of school. Yours remind me of hers.
    Lovely posting. Thank you.

  4. I think your garden is just about perfect! I love the mixture of the wild and the contained. I haven't thought much about eggplant before, but Slater makes it sound like the most glorious food ever.

  5. Your garden is lovely! Zinnias and dahlias make such a lovely showing at this time of year. Have you visited the gardens at Villandry in the Loire Valley?

  6. Your garden is glorious. I have a small herb garden, but am now thinking of expanding it to include lettuces for next year.
    The zinnias and dahlias are so beautiful too. And eggplant - one of my absolute favorites. I can eat a whole one just roasted in the oven!

  7. I prefer your garden to NS's,too formal for me.Have you tried aubergine's in
    ratatouille yum.Your cut flowers in the kitchen are delightful,must try this out.

  8. Your garden is a gorgeous treat. Well done.

  9. Sunday!! Your garden looks a treat - parterre and a pool! Forget Nigel's damp little plot in cold, soggy London, it will not be up to much at the moment. Upton Gray Garden is just what I would wish for my own plot, beautiful. I do agree with you that the combination of order and rioting abundance is the most pleasing thing in a garden
    Nigel Slater seems to be a lovely man, a very gentle manner, and an absolute foodie. His writing about food is just as delicious as his recipes!