Oregano and chives.

Those are the only two plants in my backyard. There are also two fruit trees, which produce abundant crops of plums and apricots in midsummer, and there was a lemon bush that I managed to kill a few years ago, possibly because I don’t really like lemons all that much except in pies and on fish fillets.

But plenty of other homeowners have planted much more ambitious gardens of herbs, vegetables and berries on their property. Indeed, the opportunity to grow your own food is one of the many joys and privileges of being a homeowner. That’s not to suggest that a patio or window box garden can’t be sufficient and satisfactory, but rather, that only homeowners can experience the extra thrill of planting small crops of their favorite foods on their own land.

Vegetable and herb gardens are good. They’re pleasant places in which to muck about; they’re wholesome and healthy; they can be economical; and they remind us that vegetables originally come from the ground, not the grocery store.

Food gardening is on the rise in the United States. An estimated 33 million households had an at-home food garden in 2008, according to the National Gardening Association in South Burlington, Vt. An additional 7 million households are expected to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs or berries in 2009, an increase of 19 percent compared with the prior year. The most popular vegetable crops are tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, beans, carrots, summer squash, onions, hot peppers, lettuce and peas.

Households that have food gardens and fruit trees spent an average of $70 on these activities in 2008. More than half of the households said they grow their own food to improve the taste or quality or save money on food bills. Thirty-four percent of the households said the economic recession was a motivation for their food gardening activities.

One couple of my acquaintance who own a home in a bedroom community east of Los Angeles has planted several kinds of tomatoes, eggplant and yellow squash. The tomatoes are a favorite for use in summer salads. …CONTINUED

Even the first family has jumped on the gardening wheelbarrow. More than 100,000 people reportedly lobbied President Obama to plant an edible garden on the White House lawn, and ground was broken for the garden earlier this year. The official White House "kitchen garden" is 1,100 square feet, which is almost as large as my house.

The list of herbs, vegetables and fruits to be planted at the White House is enough to make anyone salivate. The herbs will include mint, garlic, chives, thyme, oregano, anise hyssop, sage, rosemary, marjoram, chamomile, parsley, two kinds of basil, cilantro, dill and fennel. The vegetables will include four types of lettuces, spinach, onions, shallots, chard, snap peas, shell peas, carrots, black kale, rhubarb, arugula, tomatoes, tomatillos, sweet and hot peppers, beans, cucumbers, okra and sweet potatoes. The fruit list is a bit scant at just blueberries and raspberries, but the garden also features a honeybee hive. Specialty seeds donated by The Monticello Foundation will add two more types of lettuces, Savoy cabbage, a second variety of spinach and a fig plant.


That list certainly puts my measly two-herb affair to shame. I suppose I should at least add a few tomato vines, a couple of summer vegetables that could be seasoned with the oregano and chives, and maybe a few more fruit trees. Oranges would be a good pick here in Los Angeles, and I’m particularly fond of avocados, which also grow well in the local climate.

Or maybe I’ll just skip the garden altogether and instead try to get an invitation to dinner at the White House. I’d really like to sample all those lovely herbs and vegetables from the kitchen garden.

Hello, Michelle?

Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate websites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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