A garden coach can jump-start your vegetable patch.

All things green.
Dec. 26 2008 7:22 AM

Pimp My Yard

A garden coach can transform your lawn into a farmers market in a day's time.

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There's no certificate or formal quality control for garden coaches, so it's advisable to interview the prospective gardener as carefully as you would a child care provider. Most bill $30 an hour or more. (Harris charges $80 an hour.) A garden coach wouldn't build you a patio or install irrigation or the trendy fire pit. Rather, you'd get appropriate plants for your climate and site, maybe some stepping stones, and advice about which plants need a long soaking from your hose.

An experienced garden coach is particularly useful for someone moving into a place with an existing garden. He or she would tell you what to keep, what to prune, and what to get rid of.

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Both of these forms of garden help—the instant farm and the coach—give you the advantage of having an adviser knowledgable about local conditions. Further, if you sign up for the continuing help, they provide the single most important factor in a successful garden—steady attention. They're people with a stake in the success of your personal victory garden. If these catch on in a big way, we might look down from a plane flying over American cities and see a gorgeous patchwork of vegetable plots and flower gardens.

Of course, since no interest group can resist giving advice to the new president, there is a movement from the Pollan-istos to persuade the Obamas to pull up the lawn on some portion of the White House's 18 acres and plant vegetables. Alice Waters, founder of the Bay Area's Chez Panisse restaurant and of the organic vegetable garden at Berkeley High School, nagged the Clintons about this for years. The president was on the verge of starting his vegetable plot when along came Monica Lewinsky. How different the history of the Clinton administration might have been if that energy had been put into beets and Brussels sprouts.

Should the Obamas wish to have a vegetable plot, my advice is to smart small and get plenty of help. One could do worse, in the help department, than to hire Trevor Paque or Donna Smith and Robyn Streeter of Portland's Your Backyard Farmer. They would need assistance from someone who understands the sticky summer climate of Washington, D.C.

What you really don't want, at home or in the capital, is a victory garden that gets defeated. That's almost as sad as the memorial tree that dies. There will, however, always be a White House lawn. It wouldn't work for those prettily dressed children to be rolling their Easter eggs around the asparagus and over the okra.

Constance Casey is a former New York City Department of Parks gardener and writes the monthly "Species" column for Landscape Architecture Magazine.