A tomato will blush when it's starting to ripen. These heirloom tomatoes will be ready for harvest anywhere between a week to 20 days.
There's nothing more beautiful and alluring than a garden rich in color and full of purpose. It’s a love of the earth, the seasons, and watching things grow. Gardens hold memories of days gone by and possibilities for the future. They can nourish our bodies and our souls, showering our minds with peace and tranquility. "I got my love of gardening through my grandparents," said Holly Roberts Walker.
It’s those memories of summers past on her grandparent's farm that ignited the love of gardening. Reminiscing about those days when the cousins would come for a visit to play, Holly shared one of her favorite recollections. Upon entering the carefully plowed field, each cousin would find a spot in front of a plant and pick their favorite red, ripe tomato. The first bite of the sweet vegetable candy was worth a little dirt in the shoes. Holly said she could sit there for hours eating the tomatoes right off the vine and talking with her cousins. It's a special remembrance and one that remained a driving force in her life.
Holly has spent most of her adult life in and around western Kentucky. She's an artist, a businesswoman, an entrepreneur, and a master gardener. Known for her talents, she’s created this amazing world within the city limits of Paducah. Right outside her backyard is a mystical place that serves a greater purpose. It’s a garden developed for sustainability. Holly said, "The goal is to have food."
It started with a marriage proposal from Holly’s high school sweetheart, Eric Walker. In 2012, the two married and one day later bought a house. It didn’t take long to design the first four beds of the garden. In 2013, it was erected.
The tour started on the new deck. All of the special touches in and around the deck express feelings of comfort, beauty, renewal, and hope. Comfort is felt throughout the space. Bright, fluffy cushions on the chairs. The outdoor table is placed strategically under a cooling fan to the side and a soft glowing light overhead. Jasper the Jack Russell’s comfy, cozy bed is at the foot of the couch. Beauty abounds in the nooks and crannies with small green plants, potted flowers, scented herbs, and small homemade treasures.
Everything in the space signifies hope and renewal. Hope for a brighter tomorrow and renewal for fresh starts. Watching plants grow from seeds and experiencing new life sprout from the earth is a beautiful thing.
After leaving the deck, a stroll down the backside of the house revealed plants first conceived years ago, plants lovingly sewn that continue to produce. Holly said, "On the side of the house, beets, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, and cucumbers come back every year." Even many of the herbs come back.
Much of Holly’s horticultural knowledge was derived from a 14-week course she took at the McCracken County Cooperative Extension which is part of the UK College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment. After completing the course, she earned the title of Master Gardener. In addition to classroom work, service hours were required for the certification. Holly volunteered at the local farmer's market in Paducah, handing out pamphlets and sharing information about gardening.
The Master Gardening course is very extensive and focuses on different horticultural topics like soil and plant science, fruits, vegetables, pest management, pollination, annuals, and perennials. Volunteering is an extension of the course. Holly said, “Staying certified takes a lot of service hours.” Though no longer certified, tips and advice are now passed down to family, close friends, and Facebook friends.
As the tour of the gardens continued, it advanced to the heirloom tomatoes. Most of the plants are over seven feet tall and loaded with tomatoes of all shapes and sizes. Some are ripe and ready for picking while others need more time. Holly pointed out a misshapen tomato hanging low on the vine. She said this effect happens when two or more buds form together to make two or three tomatoes into one. The term used for this act of nature is fasciated.
A gardener’s work is never done. Every day, between sunset and sunrise, Holly inspects the tomato plants using a technique called 'black-lighting.' The process requires turning over each leaf on the plant, top to bottom while using a blacklight to look for hornworms. Holly said, "They glow!" Once located, the worms are drowned. Holly said, “I would prefer to feed them to chickens, however, the city won't allow chickens inside the city limits.” Sorry worms.
After checking out the Shaquille O’Neal size heirloom tomato plants, the tour continued to the base of the yard. At the bottom of the property is a full-grown pear tree. Up from the pear tree is a trellis that's the home to flowers such as zinnias, herbs like chamomile, and fruits like blackberries and grapes, so many different types of plants. Holly said, “You need to be careful not to cross-pollinate. Be selective where you put your plants. All things don't like to grow with others."
There was a discussion about pollination. She said the bees, birds, butterflies all help to pollinate the plants. "Birds land here or there...bees, butterflies, they all pollinate." Holly continued, "or you could self-pollinate. Grab a paintbrush, touch a flower, then touch another flower." That's the artist coming out in her.
Other varieties of flowers located strategically throughout the gardens, all serve the purpose of 'bringing in the pollinators.' Holly has a number of bird feeders. She feeds American goldfinches, blue jays, "They like peanuts," said Holly, starlings, robins, and wrens. There are two feeders for the finches, four for the wild birds, and three hummingbird feeders.
The sunflowers are amazingly tall. The time is about right for the flowers to reach maturity. Holly said once the head flops over, the plant is full of sunflower seeds. For those that enjoy grilling, placing the head of the flower on the grill with a little EVOO and salt makes for a tasty treat.
More vegetables are grown in the back of the yard. Several trellises weave around the backyard and up the hill, all with the purpose of growing vegetables. Once arriving at the top of the hill, you'll find more heirloom tomatoes like the honeycomb delight, white tomesol, black beauty, black krims, and Cherokee purples.
The small tomatoes called currants have a burst of flavor. The teeny-tiny fruit is packed full of sweetness and will stand up against any slicer tomato. Hanging on the trellis is the Arminian cucumber. Holly recently harvested a cucumber that was 18.5" long. Such an array of interesting produce throughout the garden makes one feel like a kid in a candy store...if you enjoy natural goodness.
Holly said, "Every day I do a walk-through to see every single thing that's new." Typically, the inspection is in the early morning hours due to the high heat. Both Holly and her husband are suffering from the lasting effects of Covid.
Here’s the thing, everybody in the household was doing their part to stay healthy and safe. Masks, small gatherings, wiped down groceries, homeschooled children, you name it, they did it. Unfortunately, all the precautions in the world didn't keep the deadly virus away. The family; Holly, Eric, and three of their four children became infected with the virus. Holly said, "The whole family (excluding their oldest son that doesn't live with them) had Covid in December." It was tough. The children fared well but mom and dad didn't. Holly described themselves as 'long-haulers'. So, getting out in the garden before it gets too hot is necessary due to respiratory issues.
Continuing on, there are many varieties of herbs grown in spaces throughout the property; different types of basil like lemon, holy, and Thai. The garlic comes back every year, along with sage, thyme, rosemary, and even ginger. There's a dill plant behind the deck. It's a perfect combination with the cucumbers.
Other plants of interest include three different varieties of watermelon, a plant known to be an analgesic to help toothaches, and ground cherries that are close relatives to the tomatillos. Ground cherries are considered husk tomatoes. They are sweet, tangy, and incredible. To eat, you pull off the tusk. This particular variety tasted like pineapples. Such a sweet surprise.
This year, Holly planted 23 new varieties of tomatoes and planted a total of 184 tomato plants. When it's time to pick vegetables, Holly has the garden sectioned by numbers. "The raised beds are one through six and the round beds are one through nine. This way, I can send the kids out to get what's needed."
In addition to producing ready-to-eat vegetables, the vegetables will, in turn, produce seeds. The seeds will be used next year to plant again. Holly said all the plants this year, with the exception of a few flowers, were grown from seed.
The process is pretty simple. A bag is placed directly over the bloom before it dies or once the blooms dry up, they can be placed in a bag until seeds are ready.
If the family is unable to eat the harvest, Holly starts canning, making salves and balms, producing oils. Nothing will go to waste.
A garden is a magical place. It’s a beautiful thing to watch things grow, and the harvest is spectacular. Having a large garden isn’t easy. It’s hard work. Holly spends hours cultivating the land. She did say that the soil is great for growing crops. It’s made of silt which is a combination of sand and clay. The combination promotes water retention and air circulation. In the end, Holly said, “I just like seeing stuff grow.” Sometimes, it’s just that simple.
A pond in the middle of the garden contains three Koi and eight goldfish
Recipe for pattypan squash: Slice the squash. If it's a larger squash, you may want to scoop out the seeds. Melt two pats of butter per three to four servings. Mix together squash, melted butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Toss. Microwave for three minutes. Serve.