What happens when a backyard farming author, recipe developer, and advocate for Florida’s historic architecture buys a 110-year-old abandoned, historic "Old Florida" Victorian in nearly original condition but needing a lot of TLC? It's Restoration Kitchen! Author Kim Pezza offers MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers her unique combination of food, gardening, history and DIY restoration all tied up neatly in a fun and informative blog series. Read all the Restoration Kitchen posts here.
As I anticipate closing on my historic Florida home purchase, I already have begun to collect plants and seeds to put in at my new, old home. I will be putting in a backyard farm, however, because the yard area around the house remains almost unchanged from when the house was built over 110 years ago.
In my mind, I “need” to put the food gardens and trees and plants in, siting these backyard-farming components in ways that it will be seamless, not noticeable. And I believe that I know exactly (well, almost exactly) what I will be doing and how. But, this will be just one job among many in the restoration of this wonderful old home.
Garden Planning for an Historic Florida Home
But first: back to the food gardens. I've decided that I will most likely put a good many, if not all, of the food gardens in as raised beds. Partly out of laziness and partly because even though I will be putting the gardens in a “hidden” area from the main road, I really don't want to dig up the area. I also want to put in a few fruit trees, but going back to limiting myself as to where I am putting things, I am going to go with dwarf varieties of fruit. I will also leave the chain link up that is around one corner of the yard, for vines, such as berries and grapes. I'll also be putting in various vegetables, herbs (culinary and medicinal) and dye plants.
I will be starting to look for any heirloom plants of Florida as well. After all, you can't work at restoring an historic home and forget about adding heirlooms to the garden as well. I already have ‘Seminole Pumpkin’, a delicious squash that the Natives were planting before the Spanish arrived, to plant from seeds that I saved from a few pumpkins passed on to me.
I'm also considering how I might be able to use the expansive porch for growing. At this time, I'm thinking about using the lightest soil I can and hang pots and/or boxes from the railings. It would be good for some of the herbs and maybe even some potted strawberries. But that is also a little ways off, mostly because the railings, which are original to the house, are in need of minor repairs, including reattachment in a few spots.
Dragon fruit blooming in Florida climate
Existing Plants and Foraging Prospects
With the flora that is already on the grounds, it looks like there is little to nothing that is edible, but what is there is nice and, for the most part, I'm going to work with it. Especially the trees and plants that existed when the old postcard picture was taken of the property. Of course, there are a few things like the Mother in Law's tongue that needs to be thinned out and maybe even removed, depending on how long it has been there. If it is original, it just gets thinned out. If it was put in during the 1970s or later, it might be saying “bye bye”, and I'll give it all away.
There are also scattered plants right around the porch. One has berries, which I can't identify as of yet, so I'm not sure if they may be edible or not. My gut feeling is not for human consumption. However, if the birds can eat them, it will stay, with a major trimming and ongoing maintenance to keep it under control. There are also a few flowers, but really, the landscape right around the porch is scant — just like in the old postcard.
Even though I may keep it that way, if I find out the scant landscape around the porch is correct to the original, I still might put in “temporary” plants. It would be a great spot to put vegetable plants that, let’s face it, are only here with us for a short time. This way, I get the best of both situations: I can have the occasional plants around the porch, but as they will only be “visiting”, it will not destroy the original look of the landscape forever.
One thing that I will be looking for is a Florida apple tree. I believe that they will do well down where I am and really want to give it a try. I also want to put in an olive tree. Mulberry would also be nice, but where it would have to go due to their size will alter the landscape a bit more than I would want. So, I'll begin with these two, plus a couple small citrus that I have, and go from there.
A fig tree cutting takes root
Consideration for Gardens During Home Restoration
But in all of this thought of the plants, gardens and trees, in reality, I'll only be working on and off on the gardens, waiting till I get done what needs done on the exterior of the house, mostly so I don't destroy the gardens during the work. However, the house restoration will not involve any drastic work, such as complete gutting or anything so extreme, so I can work on parts of the landscape and gardens slowly, and hopefully be ready to plant by fall (or even a bit sooner).
So, I do hope that you will be joining us in this journey, not only through this blog but through the other media I’ll have to come, including a Restoration Kitchen website, podcast, YouTube channel and hopefully ... well, let’s keep some surprises for another day!
Kim Pezza is the author of a series of popular backyard farming and food books, a recipe developer, and an advocate for preserving the architecture and agriculture of Florida. For her Restoration Kitchen series with MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Kim chronicles her Old Florida home’s journey to reclaim its past through the intersection of historically accurate DIY house restoration and traditional foodways. Read all posts in this series here.