Yard in the Family

An English potting shed is the pièce de résistance of Nick & Wendy Brown's functional garden.






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Publication: Minnesota Monthly
Author: Blodgett, Bonnie
Date published: April 1, 2012

Nick and Wendy Brown both grew up in Minnesota, went away to college, and returned home convinced that the cliche was true: There's no better place to raise a family. They knew they wanted their kids, Oliver, 3, and Emmett, 6, to run free in their neighborhood, to kick a ball around their yard, and to eat healthy, delicious food that they grew themselves.

Having already enlisted the architecture firm Rehkamp Larson and interior designer Alecia Stevens to remodel thensouth Minneapolis home, the Browns were looking for help with the yard when they met landscape designer Ron Beining by chance at a fundraiser. The Browns' house is situated on a large lot with plenty of open play space and, as they explained to Beining, they hoped to add a small kitchen garden. What this garden lacked in square footage, it would have to make up for in productivity.

Beining suggested raised beds, widely used for home gardens in his native California. The geometric boxes are well suited for vegetable growing, as they contain the plants in a neat, orderly manner, ensure that drainage is excellent, and give the gardener good control over the soiL But they also wouldn't be too obtrusive. Since the neighbors' yards all flow into each other, it was important not to disrupt the space's open, communal feel. The Browns were drawn to Beining's streamlined, yet functional approach and added him to their team.

Today, the yard's pretty flowering shrubs- among them a white-flowered clematis, an Arctic willow hedge, an allée of Ivory Silk' Japanese lilacs, yews around the foundation, multistemmed magnolias, rhododendrons, hydrangea, and a rose called Rosa gfaucífoÍia with long canes that sway in the breezeearn their keep by screening an eyesore or preventing the boys from dashing into the driveway at an inopportune moment Beining's design also incorporated eco-friendly touches, such as a grassy strip running down the center of the driveway to prevent runoff and a state-of-the-art irrigation system that allows the Browns to precisely control their watering habits.

The kitchen garden sits tucked away on an upper terrace, which is approached by a broad stone stairway set into a low wall made of Kasota and Bedford limestone. The raised beds are made of gray timbers notched at the corners with a wire mesh rabbit fence mounted on top- a daunting sight to any hungry rabbit lurking in the vicinity, but attractive to a human.

During the growing season, the beds burst with enough vegetables to keep the Brown kitchen in homegrown tomatoes, onions, beets, carrots, lettuces, cucumbers, and chard for months. The plantings, too, have a functional design. Corn stalks double as a trellis for the beans, while the legumes, in turn, fix nitrogen, which helps fertilize the soil Squash travels horizontally at ground level so its leaves block sunlight to help retain moisture and prevent weed growth. Any produce that isn't cooked (by Nick, a skilled amateur chef who works in finance) or eaten raw is canned or stored for used well into the winter months.

The boys assist Wendy in growing plants from seed and installing the delicate seedlings in the fluffy brown soil. They weed and gather in the harvest And best of all, Wendy says, they adore the taste of vegetables, even raw beans. "Both boys love to pop fresh cherry tomatoes into their mouths " she says. The more nature's candy her children consume, it seems, the more the sweet, greasy foods they eat at school and friends' houses lose their appeal.

The garden's decorative pièce de résistance is a potting shed imported from England. Situated between the two main raised beds, the winsome structure eliminates the need for ornament of any other kind. "We'd planned to design our own version of an English-style potting shed and were only looking for ideas when we came upon this one," Beining explains. "Even though it was expensive, we saw that it would be tough to improve on."

With its diminutive size, neat paned windows, and sloped lead roof, the shed resembles an elfin cottage that irresistibly beckons the gardener, especially the very young gardener, to come fetch his trowel and watering can.

Author affiliation:

BONNIE BLODGETT IS AWRITER AND GARDENER IN ST. PAUL. SHE PUBLISHES 'THE GARDEN NEWSLETTER.'

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