If you ask Vanessa Van Trease where her favorite place is – she most likely will tell you it’s her own backyard. Because that is where her garden is.
“The garden is my happy place,” she says with pride.
Vanessa has spent hours tending her garden, which is 30 by 60 feet and includes 14 bays. And, though she admits that it requires much work, the literal fruits of her labor make it all worthwhile.
She grows “everything,” including tomatoes, peppers, herbs, onions, potatoes, artichokes, eggplants, leaks, pomegranates, lettuce, okra, squash, pumpkins, flowers and much more. She says there is nothing quite like growing one’s own food.
“It’s just the freshness,” she explains. “That fresh basil -whether you’re making it into a pesto or putting it onto a piece of mozzarella with your fresh tomato from your garden. Rosemary - oh my gosh – to take sprigs of fresh rosemary and baste your steaks with the butter. It’s the best! The taste that comes out of a fresh garden is truly magnificent,” she says.
But her garden is much more than just a source of fresh food. Vanessa says a garden is a place of learning and reflection, often mimicking the stages of her life.
“I always say if you want to know where my mind is, look at my garden. If there’s chaos in my world, you can guarantee my garden will have chaos.”
This past summer, the wild and wonderful sunflower patch in her garden reflected the season’s chaos. But even the chaotic spaces are beautiful and healing - both literally and figuratively. The sunflowers were planted to help purify some problematic soil. And other plants in her garden have their own medicinal qualities.
“Everything has healing properties,” Vanessa reiterates. Especially the herbs in her garden.
“Oregano has lots of antioxidants. My mom used to always make us oregano tea. And it’s an amazing thing for whatever ails you – especially a wicked cough,” she says. “Rosemary, thyme – everything goes back to mother earth.”
Vanessa says the garden also helps heal the spirit.
“It’s my spiritual haven. This is where I get with God, and this is where I connect.”
In fact, Vanessa began her garden years ago, when her spirit needed healing the most. When asked what inspired her to create the space, she will say, “A broken heart.”
“My husband and I had a difficult time having children. I remember telling Corey I need a garden to dig in the dirt and grow something. My mom would always tell me if I have something heavy on my heart then I need to do something creative with my hands,” Vanessa says.
“Creating a beautiful garden from seeds is so rewarding. There is something about spending time in nature and cultivating.”
Vanessa’s late father also inspired her to cultivate her garden. In fact, he spent many hours helping her.
“He taught me so much,” she says. “He would always break up clay pots and put them at the bottom of a new pot when he was planting for various reasons. After he passed, I was reusing a few pots and replanting some plants, when I dug to the bottom and found a few of his broken pieces. I cried like a baby. Daddy is always in my garden in one way or another.”
Though the thought of starting a garden may be intimidating to some, Vanessa says the rewards are well worth the challenge.
“Just try it,” she says. “I have people tell me all the time, ‘I can’t do what you do. I can’t grow.’ Yeah, you can. Just start small and experiment.”
The best part of growing one’s own food is knowing exactly how it was cultivated, she says.
“You know what’s in the soil. You know how to treat it. You know how you water it. So you’re getting the best that you can. It’s better than the grocery store because you know where it’s coming from.”
Vanessa’s Herb Butter
1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
In a medium bowl, make compound herb butter by combining softened butter, thyme, sage, parsley, chives and rosemary, alternatively. This could also be done in a food processor. Turn out onto parchment or plastic wrap and roll into a log, 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Chill until firm or freeze for up to one month.
Herb butter is great to slice off 1/8 inch and place into your hamburger patty. As the meat cooks the herb butter will melt into the patty. Delicious!
Herb butter is also great to put a slice over your fish or add to fresh garlic and put over fresh bread. You can go on and on with the uses.