Neighborhoods around the country are gripped by a collective cognitive imperative dictating that sanitized, sterile squares of nitrogen-soaked green are necessary for the community’s well-being. Just look at the mini tanker trucks that ply their trade in these neighborhoods, trucks with the words “chemical,” “instant” and “green” imbedded in their logos, and you have pretty much everything that is wrong with the all-American front lawn neatly summed up for you. In case nobody has noticed, Southern California is a desert, with an average rainfall of just 17 inches per year. Green is got with 100 percent artificial inputs, wastefully applied, then coursing down streets and storm drains to the detriment of coastal waterways and the oceans beyond. Why so green? Is it esthetic appeal, ease of care or utter enjoyment that make green so irresistible? If so, why not convert that front or back yard into an edible oasis that is drought tolerant, gorgeous to behold and kind to the environment? Oh yes, you can! Talking to Kathleen (Kathy) Hiraga about her business, Garden Organics, is like sitting in the front row at a revival meeting and finally getting the call. Kathy grows organic vegetable and herb starts for culinary gardens, and her passion is to convert lawns or unused corners of dirt into exciting, sustainable edible landscapes. Once you survive her iron handshake and begin talking about the possibilities lurking in your corner of the neighborhood, a world of ideas opens up, and you can begin to visualize an herb garden or a perennial salad mix that is yours for the plucking. Inertia, lack of know-how or a dearth of ideas are overcome with one brief conversation, and tidy little four-inch starter plants begin to reassemble themselves in your imagination, or according to a quick sketch Kathy will make on the back of whatever you have handy. Kathy is the product of art and design school, graduating from University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. She worked most of her way through art school employed as a sous-chef then she moved to Los Angeles and worked in film and television as an art director, where she found she could apply designs in space – three dimensional designs involving sets — in addition to her two-dimensional fine art work. Her love of cooking led to a love of gardening, and she pursued a course in bio-intensive farming, taught by its founder and chief proponent, John Jeavons. With a good working knowledge of organic farming added to her resume, Kathy began to design culinary gardens for chefs, relying on her own supply of organic starter plants. She confers with clients on their cooking preferences, then designs a mix of plants that can be used throughout the year. Most of her gardens are designed for home use, although Kathy envisions creating large restaurant gardens as well. A good garden begins with good soil, so Kathy’s Garden Organics service begins with soil testing and amendments as necessary. Her garden beds are not the traditional raised beds surrounded with rigid walls, but rather “open” raised beds that can accommodate a trailing zucchini or other errant border plant. Gardens are planted in six-month cycles to accommodate two full growing seasons. Garden Organics sets up, plants, feeds and checks on its gardens for the first three months to ensure healthy growth and a happy customer. Plantings are installed in three-week cycles so that a fresh crop is always available, and customers have a chance to learn how to plant and care for their own gardens. Transforming your yard into an edible garden that will last indefinitely starts out with three weeks of prep time, cautions Kathy, so don’t expect an overnight makeover. Key to Kathy’s program is a special soil mix made to her own specifications. Her nursery stock looks like a living catalogue of fragrant and appealing herbs, flowers and greens, and her gardens can be customized to fit any fancy – whether for color, nutrition, or culinary use. Customers can also learn about composting, so their gardens will become even more self-sustaining. One of Garden Organics’ more diminutive gardens was a simple request to grow something between the cracks of an uneven, broken-concrete walkway. Kathy planted some low-growing creeping thyme that filled in the gaps and created a web of color and fragrance. Front and back yards no longer need to be a one-size-fits-all proposition if an edible garden option is pursued. An edible landscape invites wandering and musing – when was the last time you saw your neighbor standing out on the front lawn taking in the ambiance? Surrounding yourself and your home with sustainable, edible plants is a wonderful way to do some good for environment and for the neighborhood. Cooking tonight? Fresh tarragon is right outside the back door.Visit Kathy Hiraga and Garden Organics at the Sunday Main Street Market (Main Street at Ocean Park Blvd.) or on line at www.mygardenorganics.com
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