A Little Slice of (Backyard) Heaven
Flour meets flowers when a pizza-baking husband and a bloom-loving wife design their dream patio garden.
She's a little bit country (garden). He's a little bit rock and roll (out the dough). Their mash-up is a big hit.
It started in Chuck Brandt's middle school years, a time most people try to forget. The awkwardness. The angst. The acne. (Did you see last year's spot-on film, Eighth Grade?) But Chuck carries a special memory from that era. When he was in eighth grade, he saw a movie about Pompeii, the ancient Italian city doomed for destruction by Mount Vesuvius. Fascinated by an outdoor pizza oven he saw on screen, he vowed to build one someday.
Chuck's wife, Emily, had her aha moment later in life. In college, she convinced the owner of her rental unit to take out some lawn so she could plant a flower garden. She's been digging in the dirt ever since. "I love to try new plants," Emily says. "For me, it's trial and error. If I like the looks of a plant, I'll try it. If it doesn't work for me, it's out."
Pizza and petals come together in a country garden outside the couple's 1890s farmhouse in Fenton, Michigan. The focal point is Chuck's DIY pizza oven, assembled from reclaimed stone, wood and steel he'd collected over the years. "Chuck didn't use a kit," Emily says. "He did his research and developed his own design."
After Chuck built the oven, Emily surrounded it with a country-style garden. She used raised beds to harness the color power of annuals and long-blooming perennials. Behind the oven, ornamental grasses and other tall plantings match the structure's scale and ensure a sense of escape for two-or two dozen. "After a long week of work, it's our haven, where we relax and enjoy friends and family and each other," Emily says.
Pie Under the Sky
Chuck built his pizza oven from scratch. If you aren't that ambitious, you can get the same crisp crust and open-flame flavor with these options.
Assemble It Yourself
If you're handy, get a custom look for less with a ready-to-assemble oven. Most kits include the dome, cook floor, vent, insulation, stovepipe, door and thermometer. Prices start around $2,000.
For under $500, get a small oven that sits on an outdoor table. Midsize models have wheels like gas grills do. The Michigan-made Built-in Artisan Fire Pizza Oven from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet tops $10,000.
For under $200, buy a little steel box or insert that turns your gas or charcoal grill into a pizza oven. A pizza stone is even cheaper. Weber's ($40) fits its Gourmet BBQ System cooking grates.
If your garden colors are fading already, add more staying power next year with these picks from Emily's beds.
With 50,000 varieties (really) to choose from, Emily will never run out of ways to use dahlias. Some burst with dinner plate-size blooms.
Dahlias bloom nonstop from summer until frost in a seeming rainbow of colors and an array of shapes. Spiky cactus and semicactus types are extra eye-catching.
Hardy hibiscus wow in fall with dinner plate-size blossoms. The quick growers can really fill a space, and they add a welcome warm, tropical feel to Midwest gardens.
These summer-to-fall bloomers with daisy DNA draw both people and pollinators. They grow up to 4 feet high, resist deer and drought, and make great cut flowers.
Susans continue to bloom (sometimes into October) as most summer perennials are starting to fade. Plant them en masse for stunning swaths of gold.
This annual's pom-pom blooms cheer up beds, borders and containers with color right up until frost. They take summer heat and attract butterflies, too.