Edible Gardening

Savor planting ideas at East Sacramento Edible Garden Tour

Kristy Fitzgerald and her husband Mike use horse troughs as containers in their edible garden, seen Aug. 17 in Sacramento.
Kristy Fitzgerald and her husband Mike use horse troughs as containers in their edible garden, seen Aug. 17 in Sacramento. rbyer@sacbee.com

In this garden, unconventional vegetable beds became strong visual statements.

Kristy and Mike Fitzgerald turned a patch of unwanted lawn in their East Sacramento backyard into a handy kitchen garden, thanks to five large galvanized-steel horse troughs.

“I really liked how they look,” said Kristy Fitzgerald, an architect who created much of the backyard design herself. She saw similar troughs used as planters at a wine country restaurant. That gave her the idea to try this approach at home.

Now their results may inspire others to dive into trough gardening.

On Sept. 10, the Fitzgeralds’ backyard will be one of six examples of how food plants can fit into attractive landscapes during the East Sacramento Edible Gardens Tour.

This will be the fifth tour featuring beautiful landscaping that looks good enough to eat. Due to California’s prolonged drought, the Edible Gardens Tour took a year off in 2015 to conserve water. With water rules somewhat relaxed this summer, the tour is back – but with an emphasis on drought-tolerant food gardening.

“Water-wise gardening is highlighted in all of the gardens with recommendations on how to have a lush edible garden even in drought conditions,” say the tour’s organizers in their printed preview of the event.

Hosted by Soroptimist International of Sacramento, the tour will raise funds for two local programs that help Sacramento at-risk women and children, the Doorway Program of the Tubman House and the Food Literacy Center. At each stop, musicians will provide entertainment and master gardeners will answer questions.

The Fitzgeralds’ home will be a popular destination. The backyard’s colorful patio may look familiar to some visitors; it was featured in Sunset magazine.

As a conversation starter for game lovers of all ages, Kristy created an oversized Scrabble board for the patio’s floor. The wooden tiles are 4-by-4-inch hand-lettered squares. A friend welded custom metal letter racks.

A shaded pergola covers a teak dining set, the couple’s favorite place for summer dinners.

“Mike does all the cooking,” Kristy said. “When the weather is like this, we’re out here every night.”

Mike’s love of cooking led to creating a kitchen garden, packed with herbs and other fresh ingredients. As part of a water-wise makeover, the troughs became almost-instant raised beds for peppers, strawberries, basil, thyme, mint, cucumbers, leeks, arugula and more. In colder months, the troughs soak up the sun and extend the season of some summer favorites. They also provide ample space for winter veggies such as lettuce, broccoli and kale. Planted in one trough, a Persian lime tree will stay better protected from frost.

Decorating the troughs are bird baths and garden art. “The birds eat the basil flowers,” Kristy said. “We have so many butterflies, too.”

Purchased at a local feed store, each trough came with one large drainage hole. That’s space enough to hook them up to a drip irrigation system, Kristy said. Additional drainage holes were drilled in the bottom before filling with planting soil. She regularly augments the soil with homemade compost.

“They hold an amazing amount of soil,” she said. “That was the most expensive part – the soil. But they’re tall enough, you don’t have to stoop (to pull weeds).”

Set in their East Sacramento backyard, the shiny metal troughs are part of a glittering oasis where edible plants mix casually with traditional landscaping. Shade is provided by a graceful Asian pear tree, heavy with golden fruit, and a large fig tree, a favorite of the neighborhood squirrels. Lavender and rosemary scent the air.

As permeable hardscape, crushed limestone covers the space around the troughs. The couple chose limestone over decomposed granite because it’s less likely to get caught in the soles of sneakers or other shoes, Kristy said. It stays compact and can handle wheelbarrow traffic, too.

Their backyard transformation was very gradual, stretching over 30 years. Section by section, pieces of turf were replaced by patio, deck and now the raised bed garden.

“Everything used to be lawn,” she said. “The grass was not useful, and I like to use things.”

Now, the garden has become her private retreat as well as a source of flavorful herbs and homegrown vegetables.

“It’s my therapy – that’s what I like best,” she said. “When I come out here, I automatically relax.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Edible Garden Tour

Where: Six gardens in East Sacramento; start at 4401 I St., Sacramento

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10

Admission: $20 in advance; $25 day of the event; children age12 and younger admitted free.

Details: http://ediblegardensac.org

Note: Tickets available at East Sacramento Hardware, Green Acres Nursery, Relles Florist, The Pink House and Fair Oaks Boulevard Nursery.