This Mapleton retreat was made for eats.
By Sarah Warner
Photos by Ecoscape Environmental Design
As a young girl, Susan Linville was a 4-H gardener who grew flowers and vegetables, patiently weeded, and learned how to prepare produce in delicious ways. Her family’s farm in Urbana, Ohio, was a source of joy and fascination, and the spot where Susan discovered “how to be dedicated” to growing.
So it wasn’t a stretch when she and her husband, Kent Casper, decided to create an edible oasis at their Mapleton Hill cottage home. Both retired professors, Susan and Kent moved into their home in 1984, when grass heavily dominated the landscape.
“I got tired of mowing the lawn about a decade ago. And we’d always been gardeners, so with our retirement approaching we decided we wanted to get serious about growing things,” says Kent, who hails from Rigby, Idaho, where his family had a victory garden and raspberry patch. But unlike Susan’s family, with two brothers who still farm in Illinois, “we don’t use chemicals or Monsanto products of any kind,” Susan says of their yard. She cites the deleterious effects of monoculture agriculture, petrochemicals, pesticides and herbicides.
Kent and Susan wanted an organic, edible and sustainable garden. So in 2009, Bill Melvin of Boulder’s Ecoscape Environmental Design helped them achieve those priorities. “The best thing about working with Kent and Susan is that they were avid gardeners before the project began,” says Melvin, whose land-stewardship company focuses on integrated ecology.
“I’ve been a permaculture designer for more than 15 years,” Melvin notes. “Permaculture…is about interconnecting the dots to create a self-sufficient, sustainable landscape. Edibles are a big part of permaculture, our food being one of the biggest resources we need on this planet. Food, energy and water are essential to life.”
As gardeners and environmental stewards, Susan and Kent avidly follow the slow-food and farm-to-table culture. “I grew up eating things straight from the garden. I knew how good it could be,” says Susan, who wanted plenty of desserts—berries and other fruits—in her landscape. Obtaining food from plants “is a wonderful payoff for the use of water,” says Melvin, who designed “wall-to-wall edibles,” a bubbling water feature, and a patio, a walkway and stacked stone beds for Kent and Susan’s yard.
When figuring out which edibles to plant, “we had an immediate connection over currants,” Melvin says of his collaboration with the homeowners. “Currants are one of my favorite shrubs to integrate into the landscape, because they’re hardy, low water users, beautiful bloomers, aromatic, heavy fruit producers, very tasty, and come in a variety of colors, shapes and forms.”
Susan and Kent grow three types of currants: ‘Gwen’s Buffalo’, ‘Crandall’ clove currant, and jostaberry, a cross between a black currant and a gooseberry. They also grow ‘Red Lake’ red currants and white currants. They simply “top-and-tail” their currants and eat them fresh, juiced or cooked.
As enthusiastic cooks, the couple’s mentors include Alice Waters, Deborah Madison and Nigel Slater. They especially enjoy Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, and for fruit, they say, you can’t beat Slater’s Ripe and Waters’ Chez Panisse Fruit. If they need an herb for a dish, they most likely grow it. “I’m out the door and back in a couple of minutes with whatever it is, fresh in hand,” says Kent, who grows mint, tarragon, parsley, cilantro, dill, basil, sage, and lemon and French thymes.
In addition to herbs and currants, the garden overflows with strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, sweet cherries and sour cherries. French alpine strawberries grow in a large patch adjacent to the cherry tree, and raspberries and blackberries grow on trellises with designs inspired by Fruit: Simon & Schuster’s Step-by-Step Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening. The pair also grows apricots, honeycrisp apples, Santa Rosa plums, rhubarb, St. Theresa seedless red grapes, pears, figs and hazelnuts, and edible flowers dot the landscape.
But Kent and Susan aren’t the only ones munching the sizable harvest. Squirrels are fruit fiends with a special fondness for the couple’s cherries and strawberries. “It’s inevitable that a certain percentage of what we grow will go to squirrels, raccoons and birds,” Susan says. Luckily, cats Eddie and Chloe are also quick—at chasing wildlife. Coyote and wolf-urine formulas are effective deterrents, along with good old-fashioned legwork: “I’ve been chasing squirrels off the strawberries all day!” Susan says.
Being “75-percent vegetarians,” Kent and Susan grow several raised vegetable beds and a separate keyhole plot with herbs. Throughout the season, the couple feasts on fava beans, yellow, purple, green and French beans, a variety of tomatoes, French sorrel, Bibb, romaine, mâche and Yugoslavian red lettuces, Russian, Tuscan and Portuguese kale, peas, winter squash, Swiss chard, broccoli rabe, zucchini, golden beets, a host of peppers, and more.
Sustainable techniques help keep the harvest abundant, Susan says. “I’ll grow peas and fava beans to fix nitrogen in one place, and then the next year I might grow tomatoes there. If you grow tomatoes in the same place, you get a good crop the first year, then not.”
She also employs companion planting by interspersing carrots, marigolds, basil and amaranth among the tomatoes. “Amaranth and marigold repel insects; basil helps the tomatoes be more flavorful.” She recommends Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte for gardeners interested in companion planting. She also suggests Burpee’s Hot Pepper Wax for gardeners with insect problems.
Perhaps the only downside to such a comprehensive edible garden is the amount of time and legwork required to harvest it. “Last year everything was so good; the bounty, I could barely keep up!” Susan says. “But it’s fun for us.”