On an overcast weekday morning I struggled through typical Kendall traffic to arrive at a garden I had been anxious to visit for a very long time. Franks garden has been on my radar ever since I hosted a potluck for Urban Oasis Project last summer. He showed up with a trunkload of plants and seeds to donate to my garden which was just getting started back then. I still remember the potted banana pups, raspberries, and of coarse the chartreuse sweet potato which has become one of my favorite plants and is planted in every corner of the garden. He also introduced me to the Seminole pumpkin that day; he brought not only plenty of seeds, but a prize specimen for me to eat.
The fruit of his labor came back into my life more recently at the South Miami Farmer’s Market, where we sell his herbs, greens and a few other veggies like green beans, snow peas, carrots and fennel. Franks harvest is always crisp and beautiful, partly because it’s freshly picked the morning of the market, but more importantly because of his soil building and gardening techniques.
Initially I scheduled a visit to his garden to harvest New Zealand spinach for my CSA, a crop I really liked after trying it the first time he brought it to market. Talking with him for a bit about other crops in his garden, I had a feeling my visit would be about much more.
His property is not particularly big, but it is being cultivated in a big way. From the street, his house stands out from the rest of the neighborhood homes with their young oaks, bromeliads and wide lawns. Franks house is mulched from the blacktop to his doorstep with nothing but edible plants and fruit trees in between.
I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that his place is truly revolutionary. From the driveway I saw papayas, broccoli, pineapples, lettuce, roselle, bananas, raspberries, sweet potatoes, allspice, tomatoes, towering sunflowers, stevia and the list goes on and on… When I pulled up Frank was calmly and contently browsing through his plants plucking off dead leaves and pulling out the few lone weeds. I ended up staying for hours. We walked, talked, picked veggies and got rained on, it was a great morning!
I was very impressed with the front yard, but as we made our way around back, the heart of his wonderful and vibrant vegetable garden unfolded. The ground was soft and springy. The shades of green were uncountable. The variations of leaf shapes and plant forms made a beautiful patchwork. The arrangement of trees, vines, herbaceous and woody shrubs, annuals, perennials, flowers and ground covers seemed to be in perfect harmony.
To get to the back yard we walked underneath an impressive cluster of huge banana plants that tower over the house. We counted about 10 large bunches of fruit and that’s not counting what’s on the other banana plants he has in the back. Frank mentioned he often climbs on the roof to cut the bunches down.
We also passed by a loquat tree and sampled some ripe fruit. There were jicama vines climbing on a small section of fence. A nice key lime tree was loaded with small fruit. Pumpkin vines were sneaking everywhere.
The main garden paths were neatly lined with onions, parsley, leeks, potted peppers and basil. From the green stood out bright pink chard stems and fuzzy edamame pods. New Zealand spinach and sweet potato carpeted every square inch between asparagus, tomatoes and many other varieties of vegetables.
I spent the morning gobbling raspberries, mulberries, cherry tomatoes and perfectly ripe papaya.
I took home seeds, cuttings, bunches of greens, fruit, a head full of ideas and a spirit full of inspiration.
The way Frank is managing this garden is a true work of art and the results speak for themselves. His use of space and companion planting is very innovative and successful. The garden is clearly a product of Franks careful tweaking over a long period of time and could have only been achieved with patience and mindful observation.
I hope to visit often and I dream of having a garden like this one day.