Veggie gardens can have style, substance

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Photo - Photo courtesy Sheila Conlin and Tom Fahy.
Photo courtesy Sheila Conlin and Tom Fahy.
Real Estate

In the shadow of an imposing gazebo at a vintage 1930s Arlington cottage, a carefully conceived edible garden is putting out roots with flair, heralding the growing season and a new project for the property owners.

"This backyard is a jungle, so we're slowly reclaiming the yard," said Sheila Conlin Fahy, a TV news producer who is creating a vegetable garden with her Washington business consultant husband, Tom Fahy.

"I'm the architect," said Tom Fahy of the joint idea to install raised beds for luscious vegetables.

These raised beds, however, are more than a few boards nailed together. The Fahys have built -- with some professional help and hours of exhaustive research -- a system designed to protect the produce from varmints above and below ground, at a cost estimated to be less than $800 start to finish.

An L-shaped 100-square-foot area on a slope has been staked out in the yard's sunniest spot, within sight of an Amish-built gazebo. A block retaining wall and relocation of soil leveled up the space.

The garden spot is defined by pressure-treated boards on the perimeter and wood posts that are set in concrete. Poultry wire is stapled to the posts. Deer netting covers the entire installation, equipped with two gates for easy entry from the uphill or downhill side, and there is enough room for at least four adults to enter and admire.

Go through the portals and three cedar raised beds, each measuring 4-by-4 feet appear snugly in place. Nestled in the beds are young plants with tantalizing names -- all found on the Internet.

"There was better variety online," Conlin Fahy said. "I couldn't find enough heirloom varieties. If I'm going to do it, let's have some fun and do something different."

Plants include "Box Car Willie," "Brandywine" and "Pineapple" tomatoes, "Black Beauty" zucchini, "Bull's Blood" beets, "Hansel" eggplant and "Faerie" mini-watermelons. There are also hot peppers, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, strawberries, corn, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts.

An adjacent water source is from an extension of the cottage's existing system.

Drip irrigation on a timer is still to come, along with edible flowering vines, such as nasturtiums, meant to climb the posts and decorate the summer salad.

The Fahys' architectural efforts appear to be on the right track.

"The best option is to put up a fence or other physical barrier for the larger creatures, and plant extras for the smaller ones that do get in," said Nora Crist, of the family owned Clark's Elioak Farm, in Ellicott City, Md.

Crist, whose family interests include a chemical-free summer garden and produce stand, also believes in the power of the flower.

She said the scent of a large patch of marigolds can repel rabbits and deer. The trick is to get them to bloom, because that is the time they smell so strongly that they ward off animals.

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