Garden Lifestyle

Spring Gardening in California

I'm on the road again and one of my last stops was at Renee Shepherd's home and gardens, where my friend Carolyn Dille and I enjoyed a lovely lunch and a tour of Renee's impressive gardens.

  • Renee's Garden new 'Sweetie Baby Romaine' lettuce planted with fennel and thyme. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Renee's trial gardens are grown in raised beds and watered from her pond. 
  • Renee's Garden 'Slow-bolt' cilantro sown in a raised bed.
  • Renee Shepherd with her miniature 'Angel Wings' roses--these little beauties grow about 1 to 1 1/2 feet tall and bloom the first year.
  • These raised beds have arched tubes which hold netting above the plants and keeps the critters from munching baby seedlings and tender plants.
  • Colorful pots of just-transplanted calendula at the end of a raised bed full of trial plants.
  • Container-grown edible flowers and harbingers of spring--these Johnny-jump-ups lend color to the early spring garden.
  • Flats of 'Flashback' calendulas ready for transplanting.
  • Stages of composting in Renee's garden in Felton, California.
  • The potting shed, where transplanting is done. Also flats of seedlings are hardened off here. Tender, delectables are covered with netting to keep birds and rodents from nibbling them. 
  • Trialing a new mix of hardy greens; here is a colorful combo of chards and beet greens.
  • Raised beds often have cover crops sown in between plantings to enrich the soil; here is a combination of vetch and fava beans. The latter has gorgeous white and deep purple flowers. 

On a recent visit to Santa Cruz, my friend and co-author Carolyn Dille and I drove to Felton to have lunch with Renee Shepherd. As described on her Web site, Renee is widely regarded as a pioneering innovator in introducing international vegetables, flowers and herbs to home gardeners and gourmet restaurants. In 1997, Renee decided to get beyond the narrow reach of mail order. (She founded Shepherd’s Garden Seeds in 1985, later selling the company) and established Renee’s Garden to do what she likes best – searching out the very best seeds from around the world, testing them in her own gardens, cooking (and developing recipes around their unique characteristics), and sharing them with other gardeners. 

The Web site is a veritable book on gardening information. Renee regularly writes the trial garden blog, gardening articles and creates recipes for their monthly newsletter. She writes all the copy on her seed packets, chooses seed varieties from producers large and small worldwide, manages marketing activities, and directs (and enjoys) the company’s large trial gardens at her home where every personal selection is grown out and evaluated.

The great thing about this easily-navigated Web site is that every seed sold, has a beautiful watercolor illustration, plant description, and germination and growing information. There are also charts, growing tips and cooking suggestions. Renee and her staff grow all of the herbs, vegetables and edible flowers under different conditions, harvest and cook with them. Flowers are grown and selected for their colors, appearance and scent.

Check out Renee’s Web site, her blog, the annual photo contest, “Safe Seed Pledge” and Renee’s School and Nonprofit Program. Best of all, try her rainbow of hand-selected and garden-grown quality seeds. Renee shares that her business, from seed and garden to her Web site and newsletter, is her  practical way to spread the joy of gardening as a meaningful, productive and satisfying activity that connects us to each other and the earth.                                    

While in California the artichokes and asparagus were in season and we ate them whenever we could. One of my favorite sauces for both of these spring crops is Simple Mayonnaise and Horseradish Sauce. It is also delicious on new potatoes, steamed beets and carrots. Since Horseradish is Herb of the Year for 2011, celebrate the season and Armoracia rusticana by trying this tasty recipe. For more information on Horseradish, check out or  Right now I am in Mountain View, Arkansas and will be participating in a Medicinal Herb Seminar at the Ozark Folk Center this Saturday. Tina Marie Wilcox and I will be presenting a program on cultivating, preserving, harvesting and cooking with horseradish   

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