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Weed it and Reap


Growing up, I often noticed my father’s dog-eared copy of Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening laying about in handy locations with scraps of paper marking pages.  He was a devoted organic gardener who discovered the earth at the age of 30 and incorporated it into his life from then forward.  The key to his gardening was soil development.  In the beginning, most prospective plots would be full of clay, without drainage and weed ridden.  Within a year or two, each garden would become resplendent with life, full of color and supportive wildlife would move in.  For me, it was miraculous to see, and when I started cooking, a wonderful resource.  Early on, I enjoyed the simple pleasure of plucking herbs, lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini flowers and discovered the tremendous difference it made in the food.


My father saw his gardens as something more than a source of food.  He interacted with them personally, believing that a weed has the same beauty (and right) as chosen species and used them decoratively in the garden.  Perhaps this was inherited from his mother, who scoured the neighborhood every spring for wild dandelion greens and tender young grape leaves.  He also encouraged bees, butterflies, frogs and other denizens of the land to join his garden community.  He planted food for foraging animals, such as rabbit and deer, to provide an alternative to his plot without denying their natural hunger.  Over the years, his gardens turned into lush havens for both him and his friends (man and animal) and he could often be found admiring the beauty and life of the plants.  Sometimes he would speak to one of the plants, coaxing it along in a welcoming manner.  Most often he just enjoyed the contrasts in his cultivated spectacle, between light and color or scent and sound. In the last couple of years he was unable to garden, with the exception of when he was a guest—then he could often be found picking weeds in the and waxing romantically about a flower, bird or flavor.  His legacy continues in my own gardens and approach to food.  He taught me how to coax life from the earth and those residing upon it.

Picking weeds NJ 1991

Not long after purchasing Inn Season Café in 1985, I was able to buy the house across the street.  My parents moved into the home to help with the restaurant as well as care for my son.  From the start, my father saw the challenge of a neglected yard and plotted the gardens.  Excited by the source of nutrients nearby (my restaurant), the first thing he built was a giant compost facility with two side by side bins holding 4 to 5 yards of soil each. Healthy development of soil relies  on recycling food products back into the earth, primarily through some form of composting.  There is a direct link between nutrients and how the soil is tended. Consulting his Rodale book, he developed his ideal “recipe” for compost and requested buckets full of kale stems, lettuce trimmings and orange peels.  Soon, his bins were “cooking” and the following spring he was able to hand-feed the garden, turning compost in the soil one shovelful at a time.  The plants quickly responded and soon the ragged yard became a lush paradise resplendent with ever changing colors and plentiful herbs.  Years later, they moved out and I moved in, dismantling the compost bins, spreading them and re-landscaping with defined plots, patio, paths and two ponds.   The soil was so rich it did not matter what I planted, everything grew resplendently.  To this day, while the gardens have changed with our historic restorations, they continue to nourish whatever is planted.

Orr poem-4

Over the last ten years Sara and I have restored and renovated many homes.  In each project,  I have taken on the landscape design and cultivation.  I learned from my father how to encourage the plants to grow and to respect the random sprout or spontaneous bloom.  Like him, I  stick fingers into the earth to feel the energy of life within. When I come across a rock, I save them, as he did, to use for decorating the garden and creating an elemental balance between the Greek earth, water, fire and air.  As gardens bloom, I view the beauty of contrasts between the verdant paths, vibrant blooms and azure sky.  And I, too, create habitats for worms, bees, ants, birds and squirrels, following my father’s directions that they are part of our life. He saw things and thought about the workings of the world in ways most people do not consider in their daily lives. He taught me to look underneath the surface, while making me feel as though I had done something significant.  Spending time with him in a garden, was a  time of meditative discovery.  Pointing to a beautiful rose with a bee busily looking for nectar among the petals, he marveled at the life of  bees and how hard they worked.  Similarly, he viewed everything in the garden with wonder and how it was part of the grander scheme.  “Doxa oto Theos” he would say–meaning “Glory to God”– as an appreciation for the wonders of nature.  In the garden he taught through actions–sniffing a flower, watching a bird, picking a weed or simply feeling the gentle breeze.  -gv

san diego rose

Above is partially excerpted from:  The Vegetarian Guy

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