Even in their mid-60s, my parents still out-farm and out-garden me. And during my childhood, they set a ruthless precedent for what a garden should be. I grew up on five acres of Shangri La in the mountains of Colorado—where every summer my sister and I feasted on fresh corn and strawberries and played hide and go seek behind colossal lilac bushes and patches of rhubarb.
This really IS how you should live.
But. I live in the city. And I’m busy!
Plus, although I appreciate certain qualities of it, I’m not necessarily a back-to-the-land hippy like my parents were. I choose my small-but-good garden carefully—from veggies to flowers—for low-maintenance awesomeness. Below, you’ll find five growing things that I just can’t do without.
Lettuce: Store-bought lettuce is disappointing. Sometimes you just want two pieces for a friggin BLT, but you have to buy the whole head—which just rots behind the ketchup bottle on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Grow your own lettuce, though, and you can graze at will. Even if it’s just a couple heads, a little lettuce patch will chill out for months with nothing more than regular watering and weeding. It doesn’t like the extreme heat, so I do a spring crop and a fall crop. Easy peasy!
Cilantro: Fresh cilantro has a strange kind of power. It makes everything taste better. And it goes in so many different kinds of food—from Mexican to Thai to Italian to simple fresh salads and sandwiches. Plus, it’s über-easy. Toss some seeds in the dirt during spring-shower time and reap the reward a month or two later.
Dahlias: These exquisite flowers are true works of art. They come in a million different colors and variations, each one a tiny masterpiece of nature. Plus, the dahlia grows from a bulb, making it extremely low on the effort scale. In early spring, just dig a little hole in the ground, drop some bulbs in, and let em rip!
Jasmine: Plant this creeping vine in a giant pot right by a window or on a patio or anywhere you’ll be hanging out regularly. Those tiny white flowers might look unassuming, but the scent they discharge is nothing short of powerful. I have mine growing up the pillar on my front stoop, so that when I sit out there of an evening contemplating the neighborhood goings on, the deep, mysterious perfume wafts up gracefully and surrounds me in a cloud of scented ether.
Rosemary: Plant this one for the bees. It’s nice to do something for someone else, right? When they’ve had their fill, you can use it in your roast potatoes, on grilled corn, to make butters and herb-flavored salts, to rinse through your hair to make it all smooth and shiny (Aveda does it!), and finally, to rub all over your dogs and cats to keep the fleas away. You guys, rosemary is a miracle plant.