gardening with the kids

Everyday Gardeners

Measuring Summer’s Success

The following is a guest blog post from Helen Yoest–owner of Gardening With Confidence where she is a garden designer, garden writer, and field editor for Better Homes and Gardens, Country Gardens, Traditional Home, and many other magazines.


A tomato, ripened on the vine, still warm from the sun, then sinking my teeth deep into the meat of the mighty ‘mater, pegs my pleasure meter. I can think of nothing better to measure summer’s success. But, did I grow tomatoes in my garden? Nope; not then, but I do now.

It wasn’t my idea to have a vegetable garden; it was my kids’. I was perfectly happy with beautiful flowers and foliage to keep me amused. But then, late one summer, my 8-year-old son, Aster, wondered why we didn’t grow tomatoes. I didn’t have a good reason, but I answered, “I thought you liked going to the Farmer’s Market each week?” His reply was “I do, but I wonder what it would be like to grow my own.” So we did.

We made short work of figuring out where to put our vegetable garden. Co-planting in our packed, wildlife habitat was an option; however, I was more keen on commandeering some turf. We found a small, 20- by 20-foot piece of yard, that seemed like the perfect location — in full sun and right in front of our driveway.

Covered with composted leaf mulch

Despite my son’s need for instant gratification, I was able to curb his enthusiasm to wait until the next growing season for planting. In the meantime, we covered the new garden space with 4 inches of composted leaf mulch, allowing the earthworms do the hard work for us, while we planned our future garden.

We also thought we needed to name our garden, so it was dubbed the Le Petite Potager. At the time, I wasn’t sure if the name related to the size of the garden or the size of my kids; either way the name seemed to fit. (Full disclosure, only 2 of my 3 kids thought this garden was a good idea. The teenage was the holdout.)

We weren’t serious vegetables gardeners, not like those admirable ones in search for the most coveted heirloom varieties, we just wanted a few home-grown tomatoes, big and red; cucumbers, long and straight, and yellow bell peppers. We also added hot peppers in hopes to interest my husband in our new gardening foray.  Our thinking was if he was interested, he might share in the care.

The next summer, we were swimming in success.

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Lily’s cucumber crop was measured in feet beyond her body length, with arms stretched forward.

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Aster’s tomato crop was measured in the number of tomato sandwiches he could eat in one sitting; Lara Rose’s (the teenager) success was measured in how little time her nose was parted from her book.

My success was measured in perfecting the most delicious fried green tomatoes, with the least amount of effort. We each also relished in the taste only a vine ripened, red, homegrown tomatoes could provide.

Lily and BeanOh and yes, my kids successfully lured their father into the garden, who declared himself the one in charge of adding kitchen compost to Le Petite Potager and taking credit for the number of earthworms present, which he boosts as the reason for the garden’s overall success. Ah, Cest le Vie, it’s a good thing the kid’s and I have other measures of the garden’s success.