Debra Prinzing

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A Gazebo in the Garden

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009
Kathy Fries, framed by her new gazebo

Kathy Fries, framed by her new gazebo

Most gazebos are a little twee for my liking. If you think of a traditional white latticework structure, the kind that looks as if a gust of wind or a swiftly-kicked soccer ball might knock it over, you probably don’t love gazebos either.

Ever since I started scouting great garden architecture for Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways several years ago, I have changed my tune.

Case in point: When I was in Seattle earlier this summer, my friend Kathy Fries invited me to see her new copper-roofed gazebo. Situated in the heart of Kathy’s prolific vegetable garden, the structure was built by John Akers. I’ve written about Kathy and John’s collaboration before, both in this blog and in the pages of Stylish Sheds. He is a salvage-artist-carpenter who knows how to take Kathy’s grand ideas and construct them into fanciful garden buildings.

It's a lovely addition that enhances the vegetable garden

It's a lovely addition that enhances the vegetable garden

What I love about Kathy’s new gazebo is that it is both beautiful and functional (not to mention sturdy!). In it, you can gain shelter from rain or sunshine; you can pause while picking raspberries and sit on one of two facing interior benches. You can “gaze out” over the garden, looking through openings on either end or the side walls.

The gazebo’s charming rooftop joins several other turrets, cupolas and domes that populate the skyline of Kathy’s garden. Plus, it gives the vegetable garden a new point of view. When John erected the gazebo, it allowed Kathy to realign some of her paths and planting beds on a main axis. It’s beautiful and I know everyone who sees it will start dreaming about a new sort of garden gazebo.

And did you know that Gazebo is believed to come from the Latin for “Gaze About”? I’ve added definitions from several sources to my Shed Glossary, here.

If you have a Gazebo you want to share, please send me the photo and I’ll post it in the future. Here are a few more photos from Kathy’s garden:

Growing Vegetables Organically: an old technique for new gardeners

Saturday, June 20th, 2009
The layered, above ground, "no-dig," organic vegetable bed

The layered, above ground, "no-dig," organic vegetable bed

Here’s a sneak peek at a story that I’ll be reporting for an upcoming issue of Organic Gardening magazine.

I stopped by Pat Marfisi’s house in the Hollywood Hills last evening to tour his unusual “no-dig” veggie patch and to say hello to Pat and my colleague Jack Coyier, who’s photographing Pat’s prolific garden for my piece.

I arrived around 5:30 p.m. The late afternoon light was beautiful and warm. Pat’s dog “VaBene” (Italian for “it’s going well”) came down the street to greet me, followed by his owner: A grinning face under a broad-brimmed straw hat; strong gardener’s arms, emerging from a soft green T-shirt; functional jeans and black sneakers. He was in his element with vegetables, soil, and a harmonic convergence of pollinating native bees darting around to their heart’s content.


With apologies to Jack, who with his camera was preoccupied with artistic portraits of young squashes and pole beans, I launched into “interview mode” with Pat. Every word that emerged from his mouth was inspiring – practically prophetic. This was just a meet-and-greet visit. It wasn’t supposed to be an interview. I grabbed my notebook and pen and started scribbling furiously to capture our conversation. 


His face hidden under a brim, Pat demonstrates the layering method

His face hidden under a brim, Pat demonstrates the layering method

A central pathway cuts through the narrow garden with no-dig beds lining each side

A central pathway cuts through the narrow garden with no-dig beds lining each side

Pat was profiled last summer in an article by Lisa Boone for the Los Angeles Times Home section. Willi Galloway, west coast editor for Organic Gardening, saw the piece and tracked Pat down to learn more about his unusual method of layering newspapers, alfalfa, straw and compost – with a bit of blood meal and bone meal stirred in – to grow edibles above ground. He plants straight into this towering medium, which is a good alternative to tilling up poor soil or back-breaking “double-dig” methods. As I was trying to understand the process, I jotted this explanation down on the page: He creates rich soil while at the same time grows food in it.  


When Willi asked me to interview Pat and write the article for Organic Gardening, I was thrilled! I remember reading Lisa’s piece when it came out and learning that this practice of sandwiching organic materials (some also call this the “lasagna” technique) was decades old. Pat picked it up during an early retirement trip to Australia and New Zealand, where he volunteered on organic farms. He’s refined the scheme in his own LA garden and now teaches it to schools and community groups. He’s a modern day vegetable gardening Pied Piper.

kalesquashetcAs I’ve mentioned here before, some people learn by reading or doing, but I tend to learn by writing about something. I fall in love with each tree or flower I find myself writing about. I become fascinated with a style, a material, a project as I craft the narrative piece that will be published and read by others. 

I suspect it will be the same when I learn more about Pat’s process of growing food with abundance – in a very small area with few resources, natural or physical. I can’t wait to actually write this story (after returning to spend more time with Pat), and to see how it turns out in print with Jack’s photos.


Until then, the photos you see here are some of my snapshots to illustrate what Pat’s up to in his few hundred square feet of level land on an otherwise very steep 1/5th-acre urban lot.

Building raised beds for the vegetable garden

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

The subtitle to this post should be “Haste makes waste.”

But before I tell you my woeful tale of rushing a gardening project and living to regret it, I will tip you off to a wonderful product that helps non-carpenter types like me build raised beds for backyard vegetable gardening.

Gardener’s Supply has designed and fabricated a very cool piece of hardware – a corner bracket – that allows you to build a raised bed rather simply, with sections of lumber. Having previously built wobbly raised beds with L-shaped brackets screwed inside two 2-by-10s at a 90-degree angle, I think this Gardener’s Supply solution is far superior (see corner bracket, left).

All you need are four powder-coated, aluminum corner brackets. Slip the boards into the fitted sections of each bracket and secure them with Philips screws inserted in the pre-drilled holes.

There are also side brackets that allow you to extend the raised bed from 4-feet to 8-feet long.  And not to sound too Xenophobic, but – hurrah! – these brackets are made in Vermont by Gardener’s Supply. It really is nice to know that something is still manufactured in the U.S. of A. these days.

So, to create one 4-by-8 foot raised bed, you need the following:

  • 4 pieces of 2-by-10 lumber measuring 8 feet long
  • 3 pieces of 2-by-10 lumber measuring 4 feet long
  • 4 corner brackets from Gardener’s Supply
  • 2 side brackets from Gardener’s Supply