Chef Tricia Wheeler wants to up the ante on eating local. Buying from growers within 20 miles has its benefits, but try sourcing food from within your Zip code—or better yet, your front yard. As owner of Edible Columbus magazine and the Seasoned Farmhouse cooking school in Columbus, Ohio, Tricia is so invested in eating local that she and husband Scott recently made the cause front and center, ripping out their Colonial’s front lawn to plant a kitchen garden and small orchard.
“The neighbors are all abuzz about the front-yard garden,” says Tricia, who tends to serve as a bit of a garden street evangelist. Stop to inquire about the design, what’s growing and what she’s cooking, and she’ll try to convert you.
“Herbs always play a starring role in my cooking,” says Tricia, a chef who embraces Julia Child’s philosophy that you don’t have to cook complicated masterpieces—just good food from fresh ingredients. Today, in preparation for a party, she snips bits of flavor: Nasturtium blooms inject a peppery kick to a Champagne cocktail, citrusy ‘Lemon Gem’ marigold petals infuse zest in a lettuce salad, and mint sprigs add their cool, refreshing flavor to a goat cheese, watermelon and cucumber appetizer.
“I always dreamed of a French potager garden and was happy to give up a lawn—and weekend lawn mowing—to grow edibles,” Tricia says. “I prefer this useful formal garden style rather than just grass.”
Following plans by Susan Weber and Sandy Frey of Integrity Sustainable Landscape and Design, Tricia and Scott tore up sod and overgrown ivy, trimmed the trees for more sunlight and freshened the picket fence perimeter. Further curb appeal comes from a grid of eight 4x8 raised beds, pebbled paths and four boxwood-lined central beds surrounding a water fountain on an octagonal pad of brick. Just outside the fence, a mini orchard of eight Montmorency cherry trees grows in what is commonly left as a mowing strip by the curb.
Within a year, the beds filled with Tricia’s go-to vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, plus new varieties that she trials each year.
“This season I’m loving the currant tomatoes,” Tricia says. “Next year, I’m trying a mini pumpkin patch in one bed. Those tiny cucumbers would be fun, too.”