Heirloom Vegetable Garden in Santa Ana helps clients get away from it all
Well-manicured lawns are not uncommon in the historic Santa Ana Floral Park district. In contrast, fully functioning food gardens are not as common. That could change thanks to Ashley Irene, Culinary Garden Designer and Coach at Heritage vegetable garden.
Heirloom Potager is a full-service culinary garden design and coaching company that designs, installs and maintains year-round seasonal edible gardens for home cooks and kitchen professionals in Orange County.
Irene’s vegetable garden, located across from the 1920s French Tudor house she shares with her husband, Nathan, and their dog, Charlie, has inspired many neighbors to contact Heirloom Potager to start their own gardens.
“Our goal is to design a garden that you are going to really love,” said Irene. “There are many ways to garden; we want to set you up with the absolute best way we know how to garden.
Irene is a member of the Garden Coach Society and a certified garden designer, but her style is also inspired by her grandmother.
“My grandfather was a traditional farmer, but what my grandmother had was a beautiful vegetable garden,” said Irene. “She gardened very intentionally. She was an organic gardener and she practiced companion planting.
Companion planting is the practice of growing certain plants together, which can make them more productive.
Irene realized that not everyone planted a garden with the same intention, and she wanted to share her knowledge and turn her passion into a profession.
Just like her grandmother’s garden, everything in Irene’s garden is edible. The planters are teeming with wild vines and lush leaves attached to radishes, carrots, snow peas, tomatoes and eggplants.
In addition to the owners, Irene’s clients include local chefs. Most recently she worked with Anaheim Packing District Poppy seed restaurant, creating a garden that chef Michael Reed uses to create dishes.
“Now Chef has more basil than he’ll ever need in his life,” said Irene.
On a recent Wednesday morning, Irene returned from Poppy & Seed to tend her own garden before visiting two more that she started in homes in her Floral Park neighborhood.
“Initially, I just wanted to design the gardens,” she said.
But it was important that the gardens were built to Heirloom Potager standards, she said, and so she and her team took charge of the facilities.
“Then at one point I was adamant we weren’t going to be able to do the maintenance of the gardens,” said Irene.
But many of her clients have turned to her for help to make sure their gardens survive.
“Almost every client we’ve worked with has been like, ‘You’re going to come back, aren’t you? “We want to make sure this lives on!” “
In addition to sharing her gardening skills, Irene studies the history of a house to make sure the garden matches the intended style.
“We are working on a lot of research, and I will not come and do something that is not true to the architecture of the house.”
Irene’s own garden complements the French Norman architecture of her home with over 160 square feet of raised garden space in a more classic vegetable garden style.
Irene says it’s also important that the garden matches the gardener. She said her team examines clients’ lifestyle and goals to help them recommend the right plans and plants. A resident may be more interested in herbs, while a chef may care more about low-maintenance products.
“It really helps customers feel comfortable knowing that what we are recommending, there is a reason and an understanding behind it,” said Irene. “We really encourage people to start and try to do something whether they hire us or not. We just want to be a good resource.
Irene is also invested in the connection between the past and the future with ancient vegetables. She is involved in seed exchanges, where gardeners come together to exchange heirloom seed varieties, and she also practices seed saving. During the pandemic, Heirloom Potager organized seed exchanges online and by mail.
“I think it’s really cool to eat a tomato that my grandparents also enjoyed. It’s a connection both back and forth, ”said Irene,“ It’s an opportunity for us to say, here’s something we’re going to save for tomorrow, for our children and grandchildren. “
Irene thinks that a vegetable garden can also become a way of reconnecting with our food.
“We all have that classic moment where we look in the fridge and say, ‘Ugh! There is nothing to eat, ”said Irene. “But with a vegetable patch, there is always something to eat because there is always something in the garden.”
Recently, Irene has started hosting invitation-only Sunday dinners, where she cooks a meal using herbs and vegetables from her garden, demonstrating to patrons how they can use their harvest. She hopes to continue to connect people with where their food comes from.
“For me, it’s such an honor to be a guest not only in chefs’ restaurants, but also in people’s homes,” said Irene.
She sees it as a small way to make the world a little better than she found it to be, by creating productive gardens that can be enjoyed for years to come.
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