ISSUE 19  |  Outdoors In

Steal This Look: An Old Tennis Court Turned Kitchen Garden

May 13, 2014 1:30 PM

BY Barbara Peck

We’re happy to see more fans out there for ceramic artist Frances Palmer, because we love visiting her country garden in Weston, Connecticut (which we wrote about here), and seeing the hand-thrown pottery she creates in her studio (you can read about that on Remodelista). The May issue of Martha Stewart Living features an article about the kitchen garden Palmer has set up in an unusual spot: an unused tennis court. Much like the way an exercise bicycle that has become a coat tree can prey on your mind, a neglected tennis court sprouting weeds can also induce guilt. Here’s how Frances Palmer got the upper hand–and how you can Steal This Look.

Above: Frances Palmer’s backyard tennis court had languished ever since her three grown children had left home. Rather than sit and watch the weeds grow, Palmer decided to install raised beds to grow vegetables and flowers. “It was flat, sunny, and already fenced in,” she says. Photograph by Peden + Munk, courtesy of Martha Stewart Living.

Above: Palmer playfully planted flowers in crevices in the tennis court’s surface. The vegetable crop, however, grows in raised beds whose soil can be carefully nurtured. Photograph by Peden + Munk, courtesy of Martha Stewart Living.

Above: Palmer’s tennis court was already surrounded by chain-link fence, to help keep the balls inside. The same fence now keeps deer out. A roll of green Yardgard 9-Gauge Green Chain Link Fabric is 4 feet by 50 feet; $117 from Home Depot. (If marauding deer are a problem in your area, you may need to go higher. A 5-foot-high roll of Yardgard 14-Gauge Vinyl Galvanized Welded Wire is $62.


Above: Heavy-duty 13-gauge metal fence posts are notched to secure the fencing fabric. A 7-foot-high Yardgard Metal U Channel Fence Post is $7.98 from Home Depot.

Above: If you install your own fence, you will need to dig 2-foot-deep holes for the fence posts (set them in a concrete and gravel bed). Save your back by using a post hole digger designed to dig straight down into the ground. A steel Fiskars Post Hole Digger with a 6-inch blade spread is $59.99 from Grow Organic.

Above: You can make your own raised beds from scratch if you have the carpentry skills. If not, order some Minifarmbox Raised Bed Kits, available in two sizes. A 4-foot-square kit and a 4-by-8-foot rectangular kit are made of FSC-certified cedar; $158 and $378 respectively at Grow Organic.

Above: Palmer, who has a passion for dahlias (she grows more than 100 varieties in her cutting garden), doesn’t hesitate to mix flowers with vegetables. See her tips for How to Grow Dahlias at Garden Design. Photograph by Frances Palmer. Some of our favorite varieties include Skipley Spot (available seasonally from Clearview Dahlias), Hollyhill Chloe ($7 from Corralitos Gardens), and Atropurpurea ($6.38 from Old House Gardens).

Above: Bamboo tuteurs will support tall dahlia stalks and climbing beans. Palmer makes her own; to do the same, start with a set of 25 Bamboo Poles available in three heights at prices ranging from $15.95 to $79.95 per set from Gardener’s Supply. Lash them together with Nutscene Garden Twine; a 500-foot roll is $15.95 from Kaufmann-Mercantile.

Above: When garden space is limited, look for pumpkins with reduced-length vines, like this Charisma Pumpkin. The pumpkins are light orange in color and resistant to powdery mildew. Seeds are $3.65 per seed packet from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Above: Nasturtiums contribute sunny colors to a vegetable-bed border. Palmer and her husband like to entertain friends at a table set up right on the repurposed tennis court. She’s been known to place nasturtium leaves under the cheeses on a wooden board. A packet of Whirlybird Mix nasturtium seeds is $2.15 per packet from Stokes Seeds.

Above: Palmer’s studio is in this barn that overlooks the vegetable garden. It’s a quick stroll to harvest the greens for a salad lunch. Photograph by Peden + Munk, courtesy of Martha Stewart Living. 

Above: Palmer’s garden is featured in the May issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Choosing dahlias? We have more thoughts on that subject; see Dahlia Fever in San Francisco. And if you’re wondering how to arrange your spring flowers, see our recent post arranging Magnolias and More in one of Frances’s platinum-splashed vase. Prefer a tiny arrangement? See Frances Palmer’s Bud Vases.