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The Kitchen Garden in Transition

October 20th, 2021

The Kitchen Garden in Transition from Autumn to Hard Frost

By: Odessa Piper

One way to find Taliesin Preservation’s kitchen garden is to board the big red tour bus and trundle down the winding road of the estate. Slow under the watchful eye of Tan-y-Deri, and look south from the rhubarb triangle; there, nestled in the dimple of a soft rise, the kitchen garden winks in and out of view. Set your sights on the gigantic nodding sunflowers and guide into the bold splashes of cosmos.  Come closer still you will see the handiwork of the 2021 Food Artisan Immersion Program.

It’s fall now and the garden is in its last active days.  Bring an appetite and a little culinary ambition, for this garden, is meant to grow for you to enjoy as well.

The kitchen garden at Taliesin near Hillside School.

The kitchen garden in transition from autumn to hard frost. The kitchen garden at Taliesin near Hillside School.

For decades this garden was planted for the Taliesin Fellowship and made meals for the entire Taliesin community. Students, artisans, and teachers of all stripes converged to live and work in the famous structures built by the famous architect and they needed to eat! The garden produced abundant vegetables for hearty communal meals served in the dining hall of Hillside, the remarkable complex of the studio, theater, library, kitchen, and dorms that Wright famously created for the community. The garden was also home to flowers that went on to become graceful arrangements that illuminated the interiors of his visionary structures.

The garden remains a long-lived tradition, bringing foundation staff, neighboring farmers, and Taliesin Preservation volunteers together. The soil is rich and fertile thanks to our own compost and Purple Cow Farm.  The strips are faithfully alternated and tilled by our neighbor Gary Zimmer and his son Nick of Otter Creek Organic Farms. Come harvest the bounty that is still here! If you want to visit the garden email Caroline Hamblen in advance to join her on a Saturday morning between 8 am and 10 am, but move fast because the days and nights are rapidly turning cold. This is good to cure the pumpkins and squashes, but not so great for the tender leaves of late sown lettuce!

The kitchen garden in transition. Pie pumpkins from the kitchen garden await a hard frost.

The kitchen garden in transition from autumn to hard frost. Pie pumpkins from the kitchen garden await a hard frost.

That said, the  New Zealand ‘Spinach’ is cold-hardy. It is worth the trip to the garden just to admire its emerald green leaves twining on brilliant scarlet vines.  Let a saucy row of very hot peppers flash and speak to your inner spice genie.  Listen with your eyes as a noisy tumble of pollinators party like there’s no tomorrow in the peppery mints. Soon the killing frost will put a stop to the revelry until next year.  The green tomatoes will hang in there long enough to be breaded in cornmeal and sauteed in butter, and seemingly every kind of cherry tomato is here for gleaning. The overripe and split ones still cook down to make a fantastic sauce.  You can pick the fragrant marigolds and dry their petals on a tray. Add the handful of the dried petals to soups, or strew them over your pasta. At the Riverview Terrace Café, we roll them into our cracker dough to make a pretty surface. Leaves from the marigold are very hardy as well. You can strew them over pot roasts to add a peppery flavor.  Watch the delicata squash ripen to perfection under sprawling vines.  Also, frost-hardy are the dinosaur kales, beets, and turnips.

These days Hillside School awaits its next chapter, and the theater Wright designed is being lovingly restored while the hallowed tradition of the community garden keeps on giving. This garden receives the touch and attention of many different kinds of helpers; perhaps most famously was Francis Nemtin. Her legacy is carried on by Caroline Hamblen and her family. Countless cooks and students have grubbed this soil following the corn and cabbages, potatoes, and onions. They have pulled leeks and weeds and watered faithfully.  This year’s Food Artisans were led by our part-time gardener Andie Schaeffer. Andie arrived this spring with a dazzling array of seedlings and sets. This summer’s weather returned her generosity with precipitation. And our garden grew!    Also thanks to the Food Faith Farming Network for the support to our garden and events open to the public.

Now, after a season of unprecedented challenges due to covid we are preparing to put the garden to bed and thinking hopefully of the way through.

Next year! Next Year! Is the gardener’s cry!

We are already making notes of our favorites from this year, and planning next year’s garden.

Join us now, and then!