How your garden grows

Courtesy photo Combining flowers and vegetables can result in a colorful harvest.

AMHERST – A garden isn’t just for growing food, it’s also a place to renew your body, mind and spirit.

That was the gist of Ellen Ecker Ogden’s recent talk to the Amherst Garden Club.

Ogden is a garden artist, speaker and cookbook author based in Manchester, Vt. Her slide presentation showed gorgeous gardens, including her own, and gave “six steps to success” in creating one, starting with a plan on paper and adding paths, gates and plants.

Laced with humor, her talk, called “The Art of Growing Food,” went quickly over the history of gardens, showing a “paradise garden” from ancient Persia, a monastery garden from medieval times and a Renaissance garden.

A garden can be a place to collect flowers and food at the same time, she said, showing how to create a “secret garden” feeling that renews the spirit and how to use foursquare rotation for developing healthy soil.

And some kind of garden bench is vital, she told her audience.

“If you only take home one idea,” it is to provide a place in your garden to sit and enjoy, Ogden said.

In choosing plants, she advised an 80/20 rule, using 80 percent traditional and 20 percent new ones, such as mesclun greens.

“Peasants would hunt for wild greens as a spring tonic,” she said, and now people pay $4 a bag for them in the grocery store.

Chard is a rewarding vegetable for the kitchen gardener because it grows from early April through November, and “the more you cut, the more you get,” said Ogden, who also recommended heirloom tomatoes, purple beans and growing carrots from seed.

Because they are harvested by heavy farm machinery, carrots bought in the supermarket have to be tough, so their roots aren’t flavorful anymore, she said.

After her presentation, Ogden signed copies of her new book, “The Complete Kitchen Garden.”

Her designs and articles have been featured in Martha Stewart Living, Country Gardens, Better Homes and Gardens, Horticulture, Organic Living, Eating Well, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe.

She also co-founded the organic seed catalog called The Cook’s Garden, which introduced gardeners to European and American heirloom varieties.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or