Theodore Leaf on Companion Planting, Sage Gnocchi, and the Value of Growing One’s Own Food

We are starting to see this every time we go out to eat and order the “Smith Farms Market Salad” or “Miller Dairy artisanal cheese”: food sourcing as a trend is becoming a real thing. As many of us have started to really think about where our food comes from, the idea of growing our own simplifies things a bit. I actually started my gardening journey right here at Garden Collage, where I found loads of inspiration and ideas for making something that not only provided me with exquisite flavors, but was also beautiful to look at.

Trust me: I would have bulldozers terracing hillsides and bee hives put in immediately if I had my way. But I realized that starting with something manageable was the key to success, so I went with two 3 x 1 red cedar boxes that would fit on my deck. (I learned that you want to make sure the wood is free of chemicals if you are eating what you are growing.) I also wanted to make the garden manageable to maintain, so I picked up a drip watering system to automate the whole process.

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Next I chose the herbs. Left to my own devices, I would have just bought one of everything I wanted to cook with and called it a day. But after learning more about companion planting and variety, I decided to try as many types of one item that I could find, like lemon thyme & English thyme. With the details in place the team here at Garden Collage created a beautiful layout map to help me make this vision a reality. One of the things I found so interesting was the idea of planting the herbs in non linear rows, rather in groupings of three, to make the herb garden look more interesting and full– love that!

“Every time I see bees buzzing in the garden while I cut herbs to incorporate into a dish, it makes me feel alive and more connected to our home than ever.”

With this map in my hand I went to my local organic plant shop (I call the owner Leon my “plant wizard”) and picked up what I needed, soil and all. To be honest, the hardest part was taking the soil down 22 stairs, but once that was done we were pretty much in business. I planted the items according to the map, set up the watering system, and sat back waiting to try all of the goodies that would soon grow on my deck.

This hasn’t been a perfect project by any means; I lost some plants that couldn’t take the heat of L.A., but I adjusted the watering schedule and all in all we are doing well. Since creating my own garden, I have had so much fun growing different herbs and serving guests “deck-to-table”-inspired meals. One of my favorite parts of having my own garden is the immense possibility of a last minute meal idea.

For my latest dish, I wanted to think about making something great from things that you might just have hiding in a cupboard and enhancing them with fresh herbs straight form my garden box.

I came up with this home made gnocchi with brown butter and sage, that was a total hit at my house. Now every time I see bees buzzing in the garden while I cut herbs to incorporate into a dish, it makes me feel alive and more connected to our home than ever.

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