Step inside this tidy kitchen garden that makes new use of things once lost and forgotten—and offers a beautiful spot for growing veggies out back
Sometimes we all need a little help from our friends. Birmingham garden designer Charlie Thigpen helped a friend plan and build her kitchen garden on a tight budget. “When you’d rather spend money on plants than mulch, you have to get creative,” he says. Here, Charlie shares how he creatively reused materials.
Charlie repurposed treated 4 by 4s from a shed that had been torn down years ago. He reworked the posts into arbors and fencing, giving the garden structure and definition.
Left for garbage pickup after a local sixties ranch house was remodeled, the columns were incorporated into the entry arch.
The tomato trellises and weather vane got a coat of color with paint left over from another project. The paint was watered down to get a softer shade—a good use of available materials and an easy way to add a bit of color while veggies grow in.
A few trees needed to be cut down and others limbed up so the veggies could have lots of sun. Charlie hired a pro to cut and chip the trees. He then used the wood chips for garden paths—meaning no landfill fees.
Old bottles (including a few from memorable wines) were used to form a colorful topper for the greenhouse.
A neighbor had cut down lots of this invasive vine, so Charlie gathered it up and wove the pieces into a low wattle (a small, rustic English fence usually constructed of willow) to edge the beds.
He used salvaged garden tools to create a “tool badge.” An old watering can forms the center of the badge and is piped as a fountain to splash into the sugar kettle below, playing a peaceful lullaby in the garden.
A collection of broken terra-cotta pots was used to cover the grate of the recirculating sugar-kettle fountain.
One of the best things about gardening is that there is always something new to learn. Charlie makes a point to try different selections of vegetables every year. “Right now, heirloom vegetables are the hot trend,” he says. “You’re probably already familiar with heirloom tomatoes, but heirloom squash or okra? You bet! Each has its own unique flavor and is worth growing in your garden.” You can find transplants of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, basil, and dill at your local nursery. You may need to order seeds for special selections. Also, be sure to stop by Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery in Birmingham or visit online at gardenersgalleryllc.com.
Peppers: Spice up the season with peppers. Charlie loves both ‘Sweet Banana’ and ‘Hot Banana’ peppers as well as ‘Purple Beauty’ bell
Find Them: The Cook’s Garden, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, or Seed Savers Exchange
Cucumbers: If you love cukes, try ‘Lemon,’ ‘Striped Armenian,’ and ‘Diva.’
Find Them: Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Tomatoes: This is the favorite vegetable to grow in the South, hands down. ‘Sun Gold,’ ‘Giant Oxheart,’ ‘Chocolate Cherry,’ ‘Super San Marzano,’ and ‘Yellow Pear’ were grown in this garden, but there are hundreds available for you to plant.
Find Them: Totally Tomatoes and The Tasteful Garden
Okra: This Southern staple loves the heat. Try ‘Clemson Spineless,’ ‘Cow Horn,’ or ‘Alabama Red.’
Find Them: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange or Park Seed Company
‘Red Noodle’ Beans: These are fun to grow! Also called yard-long beans, they have long (more than 20 inches), purple-red pods. Beans turn green
Find Them: Kitazawa Seed Company
Eggplants: Try ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘Louisiana Long Green.’ There are lots of other kinds to grow too.
Find Them: D. Landreth Seed Company and Seed Savers Exchange
Squash: Charlie likes ‘Early Prolific Straightneck’ because it’s easy to grow, prolific, and tasty.
Find Them: Botanical Interests or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Figs: This sweet fruit is a Southern summer classic. Here, Charlie used ‘Petite Negra’ and ‘Celeste.’
Find Them: Logee’s Tropical Plants
Dill: This herb will add flavor to your early-summer dishes and will then offer delicate sprays of yellow flowers. Try ‘Fernleaf’ and ‘Dukat.’
Find Them: Territorial Seed Company
Basil: It’s the ideal partner for your tomatoes. Favorites in this garden include ‘Mrs. Burns’ Lemon,’ ‘Lime,’ ‘Greek,’ and ‘Purple Ruffles.’
Find Them: Burpee and Johnny’s Selected Seeds