Vineyard to Garden to Table

Photos by Phaedra Hise

Photos by Phaedra Hise

We didn’t really plan to have a garden. Wouldn’t 16 acres of vines, with more on the way, keep us busy enough? Naw. These days, as we quickly realized, any farm-to-table restaurant with acres of fertile soil, like we have, needs its own garden-fresh goodies. A member of our kitchen staff, Dan Leech, was on top of this and offered to get us started. He put a shovel to our rich Pamunkey topsoil and planted herbs to season our dishes. The idea took off from there.

Chef Carlisle was excited about adding a few key produce items. Tayloe asked about growing some pretty sunflowers to take advantage of the full day-long sun and to distract birds from devouring the rest of the produce. Inspired, Dan got started early and stayed late, turning the soil and laying out rows.

Before long, our little herb garden had grown to a robust 15 by 40 feet. If you sit on our back porch, facing the river, and look over to the left, you can’t miss it.

There, you’ll see Tayloe’s row of tall dazzling sunflowers, backing stripes of colorful vegetables and bright marigolds. It doesn’t look all that big from a distance, but there’s an amazing amount going on in there. Once Dan got started, there was no holding him back. He sowed mint, parsley, rosemary, lavender, hot and sweet peppers, okra, turnips, carrots, beets, and radishes. There are three kinds of basil, four varieties of tomatoes, pickling and several other types of cucumbers, and then, for good measure, butterfly bush and comfrey, which produces beautiful white bell-shaped flowers.

Daily baskets of fresh herbs and produce from the garden inspire many of our dishes. 

Daily baskets of fresh herbs and produce from the garden inspire many of our dishes. 

For us, the garden accomplishes a few important things. Mainly, we want to bring all of these fresh vegetables and herbs to your table. For example, we’ve already done a beet carpaccio at one of our Thursday dinners, using only our own Detroit dark red beets. Last week we harvested some Easter Egg radishes and pickled them for a watermelon salad.

Currently, the mint is threatening to overrun the middle of the garden, as mint will. No problem, as Chef Carlisle plans to draw on his Lebanese heritage for one of his favorites: fattoush—a yummy diced vegetable salad with homemade croutons—featuring a mint and lemon dressing. We’re also experimenting with specialty drinks for hot days on the porch, like a mint and lavender limeade. So, as you eat and drink, you’re helping us maintain order in our vigorous and sometimes unruly garden!

While we can’t grow all of the produce we need, we have some choice local growers pitching in. And we can feature our homegrown treasures as each one peaks, rolling with that seasonal harvest of radishes, beets, carrots, cucumbers, or whatever else was picked fresh that morning.

Another important role for our garden is that the flowers attract good bugs, like pollinators. Bees don’t pollinate grapes – the vines manage that all by themselves. But they do pollinate some of our important cover crops and grasses, helping them to thrive and do their jobs. The flowers also attract ladybugs, which feast on the pesky aphids that so love tomatoes and cucumbers.

When Dan Leech isn't in the kitchen, he's out back pulling weeds and harvesting our fresh produce. 

When Dan Leech isn't in the kitchen, he's out back pulling weeds and harvesting our fresh produce. 

What we didn’t expect, but should have, was that our wonderfully fragrant kitchen garden would quickly become a special place for our hardworking kitchen staff to relax. Mostly that means Dan and Chef Carlisle, tending to the plants and collecting our harvest. “Working in a kitchen, it can be intense,” Dan says. “I like to unwind by coming out here and just spending time weeding. It’s relaxing.”

In the first year of a kitchen garden, a lot is trial and error. We’re used to that after years of growing grapes. We have to see what produces well in this clay-heavy soil and hot climate. So far so good. We aren’t sure yet what produce we might lose to groundhogs and deer. There are lots of groundhog holes around here, which makes Dan a little nervous. But he thinks the deer will be less of a problem.

“There’s all that corn on the drive up,” he says. “And Tayloe and Suzy have nine dogs. If I were a deer, I think I’d stick to the corn.”

There are rabbits too, but since the nearby Presquile National Wildlife Refuge is home to bald eagles and other raptors, which you can see on the prowl from our back porch, we’ve noticed the rabbits are pretty careful to stick to the hedgerows.

Our little garden has brought us more joy than we ever expected. As with the vines, every day we see beauty in the tidy rows of leafy green plants bursting with energy and excitement. Look for Dan out tending the teeming rows, and don’t be afraid to ask a few questions (or maybe lend some advice about groundhogs). And know that something on your plate likely came right out of that rich Pamunkey soil you walked across before you came through the door.