When planning a garden, it sometimes pays to be ruthless.
Garden designer and teacher Emily Murphy says a well-curated garden will inspire you to success if it includes only what you truly love to eat and look at.
Forget the mounds of zucchini unless you really love zucchini bread. Do you really anticipate eggplant as much as your tomatoes? Or do you grow them out of some obligation because everyone else does?
“Start with the things you love and let those passions drive you. That’s where your success will come in,” she said.
Murphy, who lives and gardens in Mill Valley, says gardeners, especially beginning gardeners, will be more motivated and ultimately get more satisfaction out of the experience, if they focus only on crops they regularly cook with and consume.
There is a higher philosophy behind her method. Murphy, in her new book “Grow What You Love: 12 Plant Families to Change Your Life,” maintains that planting and growing a carefully selected handful of ingredients, is “a small step toward approaching life a little differently, a little more deliberately — and finding beauty in food, nature, seasons and healthy, hand-made living.”
It’s a process, she says, that allows you live more simply while adding flavors to your cooking that you can experience only when you grow it in your own soil.
“It’s important to remember that when you have a hand in growing your own food, the story of your food becomes your story, too,” she said. “We learn to live seasonally and learn to find joy in the simple act of growing and joy in the simple things of living. That elevates everyday living.”
Murphy will speak about her book and blog Passthepistil.com during a talk at 7 p.m. June 16 at Copperfield’s Books in Sebastopol.
Murphy’s book offers lots of how-to information essential to getting started, from essential tools and cultivating soil to composting, planting, plant combinations and watering.
But for that “now what?” moment when your beds are ready and you’re wondering what to plant, she offers a well-thought-out plant directory that covers the most popular basics, including greens — both summer and winter, tomatoes, tender and perennial herbs, cukes and summer squash, pods and beans, edible flowers and companion plants and more.
Murphy says rather than grow everything, focus on plants that are highly productive but require less time and care. Cabbage, for instance, can take half a year to produce while leafy greens are easy, quick and keep on producing. Ditto for snap peas.
If lack of space is your problem, she said, choose plants that grow vertically rather than spread.
If you’re a newbie, select just a few things to grow. It could be only one from each category. One herb like basil that you use all the time, one green like your favorite lettuce.
Still wondering what to grow? Ask yourself, what do you love to eat? What do you consistently cook? Pick some favorite recipes and grow those key fresh ingredients. Over time you can add a few more crops and expand your culinary horizons, she said.
Murphy’s own story is rooted in the North Coast’s fertile soil. She was born in Petaluma, grew up in Humboldt County and spent summers in Sonoma County where her grandparents on both sides, had farms.