ISSUE 33  |  Summer Cottages

Best Edible Garden Winner: Britton Shepard

August 21, 2014 6:30 PM

BY Meredith Swinehart

The winner of the Gardenista Considered Design Awards Best Edible Garden is Britton Shepard of Fall City, Washington.

His project was chosen as a finalist by guest judge and garden writer Margaret Roach, who liked this project for “pairing a permaculture ethic with strong aesthetics (love the fence!), while also packing in the produce. Who wouldn’t want to walk down that Berry Boulevard and meet all those happy beneficials?” 

Take a look below and read what Rachel Shepard–wife of Britton and the family’s resident vegetable grower–has to say about the project.

N.B.: This is one of a series of posts spotlighting the winners of the Gardenista Considered Design Awards. We’ll be featuring one winning project every weekday. Go to the 2014 Considered Design Awards to see all the entries, finalists, and winners. And have a look at the winners of the Remodelista Considered Design Awards, too.

Britton Shepard’s Design Statement: Our mini homestead is situated on an exact half acre in Fall City, Washington, a small town near Seattle. We have a collection of ancestral fruit trees, a flock of chickens, and four gardeners (two of the large and two of the small varieties). Our edible garden is inspired by permaculture principles and designed to welcome children as foragers and helpers. It is composed of two main areas.

First, the annual vegetable garden is composed of a flexible system of semi-raised beds that rotate crops throughout the season. The annual garden is approximately 200 square feet and is enclosed by a reclaimed wood fence. The paths are lined with straw for ease of weeding and to keep small feet clean. It is ringed by cutting flowers for the kids to sell out on the road.

The second section of the edible garden has been deemed “berry boulevard,” as you can snack your way down the 120-foot bed. The bed is a long and narrow edible perennial border, beautiful across seasons and home to birds during the winter. Plantings include berries (raspberries and blueberries above, strawberries below), fruit trees for structure, and alliums, rhubarb, elderberry, angelica, and herbs of all kinds.

Both planting areas are edged with a hand-formed concrete curb to keep the lawn from creeping into the beds. This delineation and structure give the garden an organized feel, even as it matures into the late-summer frenzy of sunflowers and tomatoes.

Q: What were your practical goals for the project?
The first thing was to be realistic about how much time we really have to devote to the vegetable garden. The aim was to create a manageable space that can be worked in periodically on the weekends or in an hour after work. Also, we wanted the kids to be able to wander freely and eat their way around the yard.

Q: What solutions did you find to your design problems?
We needed a structured but flexible system for rotating our crops. We decided on a fenced-in area with a concrete curb (to keep grass and chickens out!). I always take on more garden than I can care for, so we scaled back the overall size of the garden into 16 3-by-8-foot raised beds that are tillable all at once in the spring. The periphery outside the fence is planted with annuals so we can experiment with new plantings every year. For the permanent border the aim was to mix fruit and berries with grasses and other low-maintence plantings. 

Q: What are your favorite features of the project?
This area of the property was a lawn when we started. With the garden, fencing, and borders, the space has been transformed into a series of thematic rooms–it makes it feel so much larger and full of diversity. We can move from the vegetable garden to the berries and then to the coop–lots to see and explore.

Q: Who worked on the winning project?
Britton Shepard, my husband, has been a landscape designer in the Seattle area for 20 years. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington. He designed the layout and structures, and together we worked on the plantings. I grow the vegetables.

Q: What were the hardest lessons you learned along the way?
I used to battle weeds and feel defeated when they got the best of the garden. Over the past few seasons I have made a habit of letting a few key plants go to seed: borage, carrots, kale, cilantro, and parsley. I leave these volunteers throughout the season and they help to crowd out the undesirable volunteers (dandelions, grasses, and morning glory).

We also switched to laying straw in the paths to suppress weeds, which has been a huge time saver. And I’ve learned to grow just the right amount to keep the family fed for the summer. I don’t always have time to can and preserve, so this avoids having to compost the lovely veggies we can’t eat.

Q: What was your biggest splurge?
I guess having a husband who is a landscape designer is a pretty big luxury! Other than that, we invested in planting the border completely and richly so that it would fill in during one summer. We purchased the plants in one go–not cheap, but really worth the immediate gratification of seeing the garden fill up. Also, the concrete curbs around the beds were somewhat laborious, but they will pay off in the long term.

Q: Where did you cut corners?
The soil under the perennial bed is freakishly full of morning glory. I am pretty sure it is the epicenter for all morning glory on the West Coast. Rather than dig them all up, we used a filter fabric to repress them. We planted directly into the fabric and then used a mulch mixture to cover the fabric. As we continue to plant this will be slowly dug up and removed.

Q: Where did you get your design inspiration?
I love the idea of the traditional kitchen gardens our grandmothers kept: useful herbs and the family’s favorite dinner additions right out the door. Those gardens tended to have an enclosure (traditionally a simple picket fence). 

Q: What advice do you have for someone else undertaking a similar project? 
Two parts: First, work toward a master plan slowly over time. Taking on too much at once leads to lots of unfinished projects. Second, keep it simple and manageable. Having a veggie garden that is too big to handle can be really disheartening.

Q: If your room was a celebrity, who would it be? 
Joni Mitchell–a little wild, down to earth, and eclectic. Definitely a hippie garden.

Q: Which architects or designers do you admire?
Larry Weaner–he blends natural principles with aesthetics.

Q: What is your next project? 
Next year we are tackling the front garden. It is currently a swatch of purple geranium–gorgeous for about two weeks in June and then shaggy the rest of the year.

Congratulations to Britton Shepard! See all the winners of the 2014 Gardenista Considered Design Awards here: