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For The Garden

Urban Gardeners

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: May, 2011, Page 57
Photography by Michael Woodall

Rows of raised garden beds at this Phoenix home produce an abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables. Artist Elizabeth Kidwell created the plant signs so that those walking by will know what is growing in each bed.
Gardening advocates convert their Phoenix yard into a showcase of edible delights

Rebecca Kidwell and Troy Campbell’s goal is to change the world one backyard at a time. The two aim to help others grow tasty food using sustainable gardening techniques. The inspiration came to them after they transformed their Arcadia-area property from typical grass and shrubs into an edible landscape.

Rectangular garden beds stretch the length of their front yard. Each is brimming with seasonal vegetables and herbs and interspersed with flowers to attract beneficial insects. “Vegetables can be just as beautiful as traditional ornamental plants,” observes Kidwell. A meticulous bed densely planted with green, copper, red and speckled lettuces proves her point. It resembles a vibrant patchwork quilt, enticing passersby to take a closer look.

Tightly spaced salad fixings create an attractive composition. Lettuce varieties from left to right include: Freckles (romaine), Drunken Woman, Buttercrunch, Red Oak Leaf, Green Salad Bowl, Red Sails, Buttercrunch, and Red Deer Tongue.
In the backyard, hens scratch busily in the safety of their outdoor enclosure, churning up garden trimmings and leaves, while adding their own “fertilizer” to the mix. “They are happy and busy doing all the work of composting for us,” states Campbell. When the mood strikes, the “gals” head for their nesting boxes to lay eggs in pretty shades of blue, chocolate, green, tan, and white. The remainder of the backyard contains fruit trees and more vegetable and herb beds.

The couple has been delighted by their neighbors’ reactions. “Our initial plan was to remove the lawn, be more productive with the space, and show people how attractive edibles can be, but it morphed into a neighborhood learning center for young and old,” explains Kidwell.

“We enjoy the interaction, especially with kids who have never seen a vegetable garden before,” comments Campbell. “It helps them get more in tune with where food comes from.” Kids come by to yank carrots out of the rich soil, delighted by the kaleidoscope of surprising colors, such as purple, red, yellow and, of course, orange.

Homeowners Rebecca Kidwell and Troy Campbell relax in front of their edible landscape. Each raised rectangular bed measures 4' by 24'.
They play sleuth, seeking green looper caterpillars or tomato hornworms hiding on the undersides of leaves. Kidwell and Campbell even allotted half of a raised bed to four enthusiastic youngsters who lived next door. “Our labor costs went up when they moved away,” jokes Campbell.

Buoyed by their neighborhood experiences, the couple discussed turning their complementary skills into gardening careers. Campbell’s background is in construction and landscaping. Kidwell has gardened in Maricopa County her entire life. Also, her experiences in food preparation—attending Scottsdale Culinary Institute and owning a catering company—were pivotal. “I knew that the herbs and vegetables in my own garden were so much better-tasting than the cases of produce delivered to the kitchens,” she states.

In September 2009, the duo launched Farmyard, a homegrown business offering various options to help people enjoy the benefits of locally grown produce. They act as consultants and build gardens for folks who don’t have the time or knowledge to get started. “We can explain the ins and outs of desert gardening, build custom raised beds filled with our preferred soil mix, maintain plants, or troubleshoot as needed once the gardens are up and growing,” explains Campbell.

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