When the founder of Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, one of the many beautiful wineries along Virginia’s Monticello Wine Trail, was looking to improve the farm-to-table experience, he hired Diane Burns, a certified horticulturist. Her first task was to triple the size of the kitchen gardens – all the better for chef Ian Rynecki to prepare dishes using freshly harvested produce such as lettuce, a range of herbs and figs. But she didn’t stop there.
Since then, in addition to chickens (which lay eggs for the kitchen) and an apiary, Burns has also converted a seven-acre hay meadow with native perennial flowers and grasses and has overseen the addition of a bespoke English greenhouse on the property.
“I see my role here as being a good steward of the land and always making smart decisions about rebuilding our ecosystem to just make it a healthier environment,” she says.
A boon to the country, these green new additions also enhance menu items like grilled asparagus with herb pesto and garden greens with local honey, strawberries, and feta. “Creating a home kitchen garden is straightforward, so your own recipes can bear the same fruit,” says Burns. Read on for seven great gardening tools and a wealth of helpful tips to get you started.
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Burns recommends starting with raised beds, which require less maintenance, are easy to weed, and support good drainage. She says to choose a spot that gets six to eight hours of sunlight and isn’t too far from the back door “so you can run out of the kitchen and chop up some herbs or grab some tomatoes and go back in.” When If you are focusing on growing herbs indoors, start with 4 to 6 inch pots. Some good options to start your herb garden are rosemary, oregano, lavender, sage, thyme, basil and French tarragon.
For both outdoor and indoor grows, the right soil is crucial. “Healthy soil helps you grow a healthier plant that can ward off disease and insects,” says Burns. “Most herbs like good, dry sandy soil.” To find the best options, ask your local garden center for recommendations.
Burns does not use scissors to trim flowers or delicate plants as they can crush your stem. “Regular scissors don’t always produce a clean, sharp cut, and that reduces water absorption into the handle,” she says. The Felco model has long blades that are easier to navigate through hard-to-reach plants and sharp enough to make a clean cut through soft stems. In addition to flowers, you can also use it to chop fresh herbs for your favorite recipes.
Haw’s watering can
When it comes to hydrating plants, a Haws watering can is the gold standard. Well over a century old, the British brand specializes in products that are as beautiful to look at as they are functional. “It’s a beautiful watering can,” says Burns, also emphasizing the perfect balance and excellent showerhead.
Try the 1 gallon Bearwood Brook – made from specially sealed and powder coated galvanized steel to protect against corrosion – for watering outdoor plants. Large spout provides faster flow to get the job done quickly. For smaller plants, opt for the Langley Sprinkler indoor watering can. The small spout holds half a liter of water and pours just enough mist over delicate plants and herbs.
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For sturdier stems, like those in an orchard or ivy, Burns likes Felco secateurs. “They’re great for shrubs,” she says. And while they’re an investment, the blades can be sharpened or replaced so they last a long time. Not only do they get the job done with ultra-sharp, strong blades, but the padded handle is easy on the hands.
Wonder Grip gardening gloves
For general weeding, Burns protects her skin with Wonder Grip gloves. “They just feel really good on my hand,” says the gardener, adding that they wrap nicely around the wrist and, as the name suggests, offer good grip. They are thin but sturdy, with a coating that allows them to capture even the smallest weeds well.
AM Leonard Bodenmesser
Another of Burns’ favorite gardening tools is their AM Leonard Orange Handled Pug Knife. One side of the stainless steel blade is serrated and the other is a smooth, sharp edge, making it a multitasking tool for sawing plants or tough ivy, weeding, digging in the ground, and thanks to its 1-inch measuring marks, planting onions. “I always have it on hand,” she says. The leather holster keeps it securely covered when not in use.
OXO ice cube tray
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This must-have tool is for successfully cultivating a green garden full of herbs. Specifically, basil. Whether it’s Genovese or Thai basil (both varieties can be grown from seed), you can whip up batches of pesto with the harvest and freeze the excess. Burns does this with ice cube trays. “Once they’re frozen, you can put them in a bag so you have your individual frozen cubes ready to use all winter.”
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Regan Stephens is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor who has been involved in digital and print magazine production for nearly two decades. She has worked for People, Teen People and Philadelphia magazines and her writing has appeared in publications such as Travel + Leisure, wealthand Conde Nast Traveler. She contributed Food & Wine for the past five years. For this piece, she spoke to a gardener with two decades of gardening experience.