The sugary Sungold is a good entry-level tomato, Teegen says. They come out early, are prolific, hearty and disease resistant, and they produce, as she puts it, “fruit, fruit, fruit.”
Teegen plops a half-basketball-sized terra cotta pot onto the table in front of me. It contains five different kinds of lettuce, chives and nasturtiums. In a “garden” of that magnitude, you won’t have weed or moisture problems. You won’t need chemical fertilizers, just rich, nutrient-heavy compost. If it is possible for plants to be happy, these guys looked so ecstatic and well-adjusted it made you want to grab some vinaigrette and dribble it straight into the pot and graze.
We chew on spicy, sinus-clearing arugula still warm from the afternoon sun — the jagged leaves may look like sidewalk weeds to some, but these actually came from seeds from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello garden. Tasting something that once garnished the plate of the president who wrote the Declaration of Independence is, well, just a little bit awesome. Beside the arugula is a gargantuan, spiky baseball mitt of an artichoke plant, with petals hefty as a giant’s fingers. And beside that are Teegen’s favorite Chanterais melons, a pale, fine celadon green on the outside and creamy apricot on the inside.
Aghast at the dubious neohippie aesthetic of eggplants in the front yard and worried about their own property values, Teegen’s neighbors freaked out at first when she took out the grass. But then they started hanging out with her after work, peering in like curious rabbits. And then they started eating out of the garden.
“You know,” her neighbors then warned, “everybody’s going to steal your food.” But no turnip thieves yet.
There are, of course, wildlife issues. Hawks and coyotes keep rabbits at bay. Rats will nibble a bit from each plant, but won’t dig. Skunks — Mount Washington is relatively skunk-free, but Silver Lake is rife with them — dig for grubs but just move the plants around.
For clients uninterested in insect husbandry, Teegen offers a garden-maintenance service. She herself is a purist.
“I have my mantid egg sac ready to go,” she says. Her brigade of praying mantises eats aphids. The bigger they get, the bigger prey the mantises can chomp. She expects they will be eating the feral cats by the end of summer.