Anyone can turn a yard or even a few pots into beautiful food, says Los Angeles gardening guru Lauri Kranz.
“We really want to empower people to grow their own food and not be overwhelmed about having to know everything before they even begin,” add the author of the new book “A Garden Can Be Anywhere.”
Kranz moved from New York to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s to pursue a music career (her dream-pop band Snow & Voices has three albums), but her foray into gardening was almost an accident: Her oldest son’s kindergarten needed someone to oversee the student garden, and Kranz volunteered.
“That sparked everything,” she said. “I became obsessed,” reading all the books she could find and pumping growers for information at her favorite farmers markets.
When her second son started kindergarten, his school didn’t have a garden, and she offered to start one. Parents who were impressed by its bounty asked her to help them set up gardens at their homes, and her business Edible Gardens L.A. was born.
Kranz’s business still caters to creating gardens for children and schools, but she also has famous clients. She doesn’t drop names, but the glowing recommendations on her book cover include a wide range of Los Angeles celebrities, from singer Katy Perry and actor Jason Bateman to designer Jenni Kayne and chef Suzanne Goin.
The 256-page book is filled with easy-to-digest advice and inspiring photos by Yoshihiro Makino of riotous garden plots crammed with all kinds of colorful plants — including a vividly violet cauliflower, delicately striped eggplant and her must-have garden plant: African basil, with creamy spikes of purple and white flowers — and every shade of green you can possibly imagine. (Her husband, Dean Kuipers, a former editor at the Los Angeles Times, assisted with the writing.)
Almost all the featured gardens are in the Los Angeles area, except for two small farms in Maine, but Kranz hopes this book will attract readers across the country.
Beauty and individuality are key to Kranz’s gardens. These are not utilitarian rows of carrots and tomatoes, but a smorgasbord of varieties grown close together to shade the soil, draw in pollinators and produce an abundance of food, fragrances and hues.
“For me, music and gardening are not that far apart,” she said. “In both, you’re starting with a blank canvas, whether it’s a piece of paper or a plot of land, and you create something to tell your own story.”
It’s important to Kranz that her clients get a garden that suits their needs and becomes a place they want to linger.
Which is not to say she doesn’t have rules.
Here are her top four tips for creating the garden of your dreams.
Blooms are vital
“An edible garden is created to produce food,” Kranz said, but that doesn’t mean you plant only edibles. Her gardens are stuffed with flowers too, some edible, like her omnipresent African basil, and some because of their rich fragrance and attractiveness to bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.
“Attracting all those beneficials to the garden is vital,” she said, “because without them, our edible gardens wouldn’t produce many edibles.”
Location, location, location
“The most important thing is picking the right place,” Kranz says. Explore your property and take photos of every potential garden spot every two hours during the day to see how much time is spent in sun or shade.
Eight hours of sun is perfect “if you want to grow giant heirloom tomatoes and melons, but five hours of full sun is fantastic too. You can grow delicious Sun Gold tomatoes and beautiful kale, herbs, peas and beans with just five hours a day.”
Feed your soil
Kranz is a strong proponent of organic gardening and believes building a friable (i.e. crumbly), nutrient-rich soil is critical to your garden’s success.
Such soils can take years to create, she said, but to start she advocates the “double-digging method”: Digging up a shovel-wide trench, half filling it with compost and then shoveling soil from the next trench into the first to introduce air into the soil and mix in the compost, That, plus regular fertilizing with liquid seaweed, is all she recommends for the first year.
“Your garden will tell you what else it needs,” she said. “You’ll be learning as you go.”
Most of her gardens are made of raised beds of untreated, unpainted wood (no wider than 4 feet so the middle is always within reach), and she’s found drip irrigation to be the best way to keep them watered.
After she fills the beds with soil, she lays a half-inch irrigation hose on one end and strings quarter-inch perforated hoses the length of the bed, 6 inches apart. In Southern California, she suggests, start watering three times a week for 18 minutes, and then adjust from there if the soil is too wet or dry.
Don’t know how to tell? Stick your finger in the soil. If it’s consistently moist 2 inches down, your plants are fine. If it’s dry, break out the hose.