Lyanda and Claire with Marigold the Buff Orpington and Esmeralda the Barred Rock.
Views from above, with a glimpse of the vintage pond in the shady patio corner. As you see, we haven't removed all the grass, though I think if we lived in a part of the country where grass required maintenance, we would. Here we never water, never fertilize, barely mow, and don't worry about dandelions--we eat them, feed them to the chickens, or leave them to the butterflies. It's nice to have a place to spread an old quilt for reading or playing games.
Tell us a little about your family and your garden.
I live in Seattle with my hubby Tom, and our 11 year old daughter, Claire. About 5 years ago we moved into this 1920s West Seattle farmhouse--though it's no longer on a farm, but surrounded by the smaller houses that grew up around it in the 1940s, and is not far from a busy road.
When we moved in, the house itself had been completely restored, but the yard was mainly grass and a few shrubs. When I looked at the photo of the house from Seattle's 1938 photographic home census, I was struck by the presence of fruit trees, a chicken coop, and a big garden (along with a "whooping cough quarantine" sign on the door!), and was inspired to continue this farm house's restoration, by bringing something of the "farm" back.
Chrysanthemum the Rhode Island Red looks longingly at the garden lettuce. She could eat it all in about three minutes!
We dug up a bunch of grass to convert into mounded raised veggie beds, added columnar apples and a four-way Asian pear, and parlayed our chicken-keeping experience (we had hens at our previous house) into designing a beautiful coop for our four laying hens. The coop is integrated into the new garden (I see these aspects of our food-life--chickens and garden--as intimately connected). When we first dug up the grass and brought in soil for the beds, I looked around at the muddy, February mess and started to cry. Now our garden is one of my favorite places on earth.
Pretty thunbergia twining up the cold frame.
Did you grow up with a garden?
My mom always had a small kitchen garden, and I definitely grew up with the idea that keeping a garden was just part of life. When I was in fourth grade I read Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, and that put the idea of having my own garden into my head. I asked my parents if I could have a "bit of earth." Right away, my dad helped me make a raised bed, outlined in cinder blocks. I grew radishes, carrots, and other simple, yummy things, and filled the holes in the blocks with nasturtium seeds -- so pretty and easy.
What are some easy ways to include children in the day to day aspects of keeping a garden?
My daughter Claire has her own garden plot, where she gets to grow whatever she wants. This year it's carrots, peppers, bush beans, sunflowers, and cosmos, in addition to the usual small strawberry patch.
I really believe that giving kids a spot of their own is exciting and inspiring for them, even if it's small. Growing from seeds is miraculous -- just make sure to plan for success by planting things that are easy to grow. The radishes, carrots, and nasturtiums of my own childhood garden were perfect, and a spectacular scarlet runner bean tee pee is fail-safe, spectacular, and fun.
Now that Claire's older, she is trying some trickier things (like peppers in Seattle--that definitely takes some coddling!). When we make an effort to involve them, kids find natural joy in gardening, and are so much more likely to love homegrown foods.
Sunflowers brought light to this dark Seattle summer!
How does living in Seattle influence your garden design?
This summer has been particularly cold and dark, and Seattleites spent much of July and early August in polar fleece instead of tank tops. The average amount of cloud cover in Seattle during these months is 1.6 hours per day, this year it was almost nine hours per day -- the darkest Seattle summer on record! So it's a rough one for gardeners.
We have beautiful plants this year -- flourishing green tomatoes, zukes, cukes, pumpkins -- but very little ripening fruit. It's frustrating. Because even normal Seattle summers are rarely hot, we have created our garden beds at the south end of the yard, where they'll get the most sun exposure. We chose mounded raised beds rather than wooden frames for ease and flexibility of form, but also because of the weather--the wet Seattle spring is an invitation to slugs, which love to hide in the corners of wood frames.
We did, however, use one of the old wooden windows from our basement to build a cold frame that allows us to extend the short Seattle growing season on both ends. And our location definitely limits the things we can grow -- no avocados, citrus, any of the beautiful things folks can grow farther south. Lots of kale, broccoli, and lettuce!
We consider the food life of the garden and chicken coop to be an extension of our other home habits. Here, the clothesline stretches across Claire's vegetable and sunflower bed.
What was on your must-grow list this year?
Because I want to make sure the things we grow actually get eaten, I focus on growing what we all truly love. That means lots of Cascadia snap peas -- our favorite. Every year I try one new winter squash -- this season it is Mrs. Sawyer's Sweet Potato Squash. And after growing the gorgeous heirloom Striped German tomato last year, I knew I would always have one of those!
View to the chicken coop through the tangled almost-autumn garden--such a change from the tidy green rows of June.
What garden blogs, websites, and books inspire you the most?
I love the sites that integrate gardening into family life, home life, and a habit of being that recognizes our continuity with the natural world. For inspiration on the web I often turn to Four Green Acres and the blog of nature writer Susan J. Tweit, called Walking Nature Home. My favorite garden book is still The Secret Garden!
Lyanda in her garden.
Why do you garden?
I just find so much joy in nurturing a connection between our household and the soil upon which we live. In gardening, my family and I find ourselves involved daily with the local cycles of weather, sun, soil, season, wildlife, food, sustenance, right here outside our door. It's a sensibility that carries over into the rest of our lives, and the fact that it results in the best earthly food to grace our family table is a delight!
Sweet pea tee pee. I love to integrate vertical structures and vining flowers into the garden. In this chilly Seattle growing season, the sweet peas continue to bloom in August!What advice or tips do you have for beginning gardeners?
Start out growing a few simple foods that you love. Ask for help from seasoned gardening friends, or the folks at the farmer's market -- find out what grows easily where you live. And mix easy-to-grow flowers with your veggies! Sweet peas, sunflowers, cosmos, marigolds.
Companion planting is sometimes good for pest control, but I love growing flowers just because they bring beauty, inspiration, and joy. If you end up in a nearly tomato-less Seattle summer like this one, you can rest your eyes on the gorgeous sunflowers and remember that gardening, no matter how it turns out, is always worth it.
Lyanda Lynn Haupt, is the mother of Claire, wife of Tom and a nature writer based in Seattle. Though her new book, Crow Planet, celebrates urban nature, she never meant to live in a city. As a young, tree-hugging, earth-mother-to-be, she was sure she would end up in some funky cabin-esque home, surrounded by meadows and woodlands, frolicking barefoot with her daughter as the bell on their cow tinkled. That’s not at all what happened.
She settled in Seattle where she worked for an environmental organization, and her husband worked in global health for the University of Washington. She birthed the presaged girl, cut back her work hours, and wrote her first book from their tiny house during Claire’s naps. To stave off latent cow yearnings, she and her husband installed a backyard chicken coop with four beautiful laying hens and grew a huge garden.
All images via Lyanda Lynn Haput