Inspiration Garden Feed

On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden

Garden 3
Farmer Bob's garden includes a greenhouse, barn, and chicken house. ©SueFrausePhoto

By Sue Frause

Editor's note: Today's 'inspiration garden' guest post is extra-special to me. I had the pleasure of working with writer Sue Frause back in 2007-09, when I served as deputy editor of Crosscut. Around the same time, I also had the privilege of staying at the guest apartment on Whidbey Island that she and 'Farmer Bob' offered to city folk like me. Whidbey is one of my most favorite places on the planet. It's a short ferry ride from Seattle but feels worlds away, and the Frause House easily undid me with its charm and the owners' hospitality. Here's Sue.

Welcome to Farmer Bob’s Garden on Whidbey Island. While many folks are sprouting green thumbs during the coronavirus pandemic, Farmer Bob’s turned green many moons ago. But first, a bit of backgrounder about Farmer Bob - who also happens to be my husband. 

Bob Frause and I were married in the summer of 1974, but his love of gardening started long before. “My first gardening experience was at age three at our home in Burien, south of Seattle,” said Bob. “It was always a large garden and a family affair, with work to be done.” That meant spading, laying down manure, weeding, and picking and preserving the crops. “One of my big dreams as a kid was to live on a farm and have a garden.” 

Bob in Garden
A three-year old 'Farmer Bob' pictured in the 1940s at his family's garden south of Seattle.

Although our first year as a married couple started out in a Seattle apartment, that didn’t stop Bob from growing a few crops. He built small planter boxes and placed them outside our fourth-floor kitchen window on the fire escape. “We had lettuce and tomatoes coming up until the Seattle Fire Department made us remove them just as the crop was in full bloom,” recalled Bob. 

After moving to Whidbey Island in 1975, where we bought a 1930s house on three acres in Langley, Bob planted his first ‘official’ garden - and he’s been digging in the dirt ever since. During those early years, the yearly plowing of the garden was always a chore. Our first springtime tilling of the soil was done by a neighbor who rotovated the garden with his tractor. The next few years, we rented a rototiller, but eventually ended up buying a Masport cultivator from New Zealand. It was a small machine and took a long time to till, but it worked for several seasons. And then Farmer Bob moved into the ‘real gardening’ category, purchasing a used Troy-Bilt rear tine tiller from a friend’s father. To this day, Bob continues to use the Troy-Bilt for smaller finishing jobs, but for the past 7-8 years, he’s been working the soil with his Kubota tractor and its five-foot wide rototiller. 

Sunflower

Ongoing improvements at Frause Acres are a big part of Farmer Bob’s garden. Fruit trees were planted early on and included apple, Italian plum, peach, and cherry trees (our neighbor’s goat devoured one of the apple trees down to the ground one year, but it survived and is now the largest tree in the garden). New structures were also added, including a large barn, chicken house, greenhouse, and a seven-foot high fence around the entire garden to keep out the deer. At the same time, we were also raising chickens, rabbits, turkeys, and cows - which resulted in plenty of free manure for the garden.

So what does Farmer Bob’s garden grow? Annual crops include arugula, beets, lettuce, radishes, spinach, garlic, onions, lettuce, carrots, beans (pole and dried), peas, corn, broccoli, cabbage, squash, cucumbers, 4-5 types of peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, basil, and sunflowers. Perennials in the garden include artichokes, herbs, raspberries, strawberries, horseradish, and a variety of flowers. 

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A basket of summer vegetables from Farmer Bob's garden. ©SueFrausePhoto

Over the past 40+ years, we established a farm business and sold beef, eggs, vegetables, and preserves - the idea being to defray the expenses of farming and gardening. And for a number of years, Farmer Bob sold basil to local stores and restaurants under the Bob’s Basil Factory brand.

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Farmer Bob brings in a batch of basil for pesto making. ©SueFrausePhoto

So what about harvest time? “Processing the bounty has been a chore, but fun,” says Bob. “We freeze, dry, pickle, and juice a lot of what we grow.” He even designed Farmer Bob labels for jams, jellies, and pickles. Vegetables from the garden (along with veggie starts from the greenhouse) are given to family, friends, and neighbors.

Farmer Bob Jam
Farmer Bob's Whidbey Island Raspberry Jam. ©SueFrausePhoto

Several aspects of Farmer Bob’s garden have evolved since those early days. For several years, we invited friends for a summer dinner party in the garden. The only requirement was that all the dishes (except the meat/fish of choice and beverages) had to originate from the garden. This was long before ‘farm to table’ became a global trend. 

In 2021, Farmer Bob’s Garden turns 45 years old. Let’s hope we can all gather around the table once again for a summer dinner party in the garden with friends. And raise a toast to Farmer Bob, whose childhood dream to have a farm and garden really did come true.

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Bob and Sue Frause's son Max and granddaughter Emilia head out to feed the chickens. ©SueFrausePhoto

H-l-about

Sue Frause is a prolific, long-time journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in print and online in the U.S. and abroad. For 15 years, she wrote an award-winning column for The South Whidbey Record. She currently writes not one, not two, but three blogs: Eat|Play|Sleep, Closet Canuck, and married to martha. She is also a regular on Around the World Radio. In her many travels, she's visited all seven continents, but her favorite place in the world is right there on Whidbey Island.

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We Go a Bit Daffy for Daffodils

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We Go a Bit Daffy for Daffodils

Tahiti

By Lisa Brunette

A curious thing happened this spring here at the Dragon Flower Farm. All manner of daffodils sprouted up and rung their little bells to signal the change of season. It was curious because this is our second spring here at the farmhouse, and last year, we didn't get this kind of show. We think the latency might be because the year we bought our house, the developer who flipped it had basically razed the grounds down to nothing but short grass and nubs. Since bulbs won't flower again if you cut their leaves too early, they might have gone into a bit of shock from that defoliation and needed time to recover. The neighbors told us the yard used to be full of flowers every spring, and now we can see it for ourselves!

Daffodils are of course a classic harbinger of spring, and that's definitely true in St. Louis, where they grow in abundance. Living here again and experiencing the full four seasons in all their extremes has put me back into that mode of feeling a rare joy to see them as winter gives way to spring. To have them suddenly come up like crazy on my own property amped up the good feelings considerably.

The orange-tinged beaut pictured above is growing in huge clusters near the front stoop and in the back where we tore out the old chainlink fence in the fall. I'd never seen one like it, so I took to Instagram for some ID help from our followers. Jason Delaney of @phsdaffodils informed me it's a double daffodil called Narcissus 'Tahiti.' Hybridized by the great Irish daffodil breeder J. Lionel Richardson, 'Tahiti' was introduced in 1956 and is "one of the most awarded double daffodils in the garden and exhibition sectors," according to Delaney. So we have a prestigious daffodil growing right here on the farm.

Delaney's Insta feed will make any daff lover salivate, by the way. In addition to his own version of the 'Tahiti,' he posted THIS INCREDIBLE FREAK OF A FLOWER whose name 'Sunny Girlfriend' doesn't even begin to do it justice.

Freakyfurlydaff

I. Want. That. Flower.

It's a really gorgeous spring here in the River City, so let me show you more from out and about. My brother Jason is over in Illinois (St. Louis is a "bi-state area," for those of you who don't know. We're on the Missouri side, but Illinois is just across the Mississippi River, so our culture hugs the riverbanks on either side.) He sent this pic from his own yard, the classic yellow daffodil.

Jasondaff
They're audacious and a little surprising, the way they pop up after months of cold.

Jason and I also went hiking one afternoon recently, and we came across a cluster of daffodils that had naturalized in the middle of the woods. This was on a hiking trail on the grounds of the World Bird Sanctuary, which is worth a visit even if you can't manage the two-mile hike through the hills around it. These daffodils are pure white with just a small red rim on a yellow-centered corona. Gorgeous, no?

Daff red center

Here's one growing in shade behind our house, a smaller flower than Jason's but still in that classic style. There are more than 14,000 daffodil cultivars, so I don't have the ID on this one nailed down, but it could be Narcissus 'Akala.'

Daffodilback
Narcissus 'Akala'?

This weekend, my husband and I met my sister and her family at The Butterfly House, where they were having a native plant sale. Speaking of natives, of course daffodils are not native to Missouri, but... what can I say? It's springtime, and they're beautiful. We have a quarter-acre to fill, and if there are already some daffodils (and other bulbs) taking up a few slivers, I think that's OK. We're not purists. Anyway, both my sister and I bought a few native plants, and I'll talk about those selections in a later post. But for now, the garden around the Butterfly House was in full spring glory, and that meant bulb flowers.

Daff and pink tulip
At The Butterfly House.

The subtle pastels put us into an Easter-y mood, especially with my nieces, aged 5 and 7, along with us. The five-year-old is all unicorns and ballet tutus, but the seven-year-old prefers a fire-breathing dragon, or Darth Vader if we're really getting into it. So pastels for one and bold primaries for the other.

Daff and red tulip
Also at The Butterfly House.

The Butterfly House is part of the world-renowned Missouri Botanical Garden, and it shows in the grounds, which are a lovely frame for the butterflies within. If you visit St. Louis, you have to check out both these places.

Back to the scope of farms and yards... While we're amazed here to have a few clusters of 'Akala' and her showier cousin, 'Tahiti,' some of the people I know are being treated to vast swathes of daffodils on their land, such as this array in the suburban property of my friend the mystery writer Pam De Voe.

Pam
Photos courtesy Pam De Voe.

Pam2

Says Pam of her yard:

Ours is not the typical suburban manicured backyard. We do keep the front yard neatly mowed, etc., for our community, but I like a more natural look, and we can get away with that in the back.

If you like mysteries, you should check out Pam's work. She has a new one out in her Ming Dynasty Series called No Way to Die, and this Easter weekend only, the ebook version will be 100 percent free at this link.

Nowaytodie

What's getting YOU going this spring? We never tire of flower shots, and we love to hear of folks' struggles and triumphs in the dirt. Feel free to share below.

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Inspiration Garden: My Father’s… Grandmother’s Garden…?

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Three generations in the garden. From left to right, myself, Zander (my son) and Don (my father).

Note: This is the first in a series on gardens that have inspired us. First up is Anthony Valterra (the other half here at Dragon Flower Farm, in case you didn't know), giving a lovely snapshot of a garden I've admired ever since we met, as it's in the fam. - Lisa

I don’t have any clear memory of a time when my father wasn’t gardening. Even when we were renting small houses on the outskirts of Walla Walla, Washington, we at least had a vegetable patch. Every year I remember watching my dad buy and plant seeds. Of course, our family also canned fruit, made salsa, and had a root cellar. My father was the son of dairy farmers and my mother the daughter of very poor immigrants. It makes sense that they would continue to see the dangers of the world being mitigated by a small garden and some canned foods on a shelf under the house.

But as time passed, both my mother and father moved from gardens that were purely practical to ones that were a combination of practical and decorative. My parent’s divorced, and although my mother continued gardening, for her it became a hobby. But my father, after he retired from teaching, went pro. He now runs Thompson Landscaping in Walla Walla. And he helps his current wife (my stepmother) Cyndi Thompson with her business, My Grandmother’s Garden. The two businesses are located on their property in Walla Walla, and where one begins and the other ends is probably not terribly clear to someone arriving for the first time. The small cabin that is My Grandmother’s Garden moves seamlessly into the landscape and greenhouses that is Thompson Landscapes. Dear old dad has even had a bit of national recognition with a pictorial of his and Cyndi’s home in Sunset Magazine (about 1989). We're hard-pressed to find a copy, but here's a shot my wife recently took of the entrance to My Grandmother's Garden to make up for it.

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'Seamless' is not hyperbolic. 

After I had gone off to college, Dad’s interest in and skill at gardening and garden art kept developing. His skill with layout and plants was always good, but it quickly become noted enough for him to be contracted to landscape local wineries, the local community college, and private homes (often of the people who owned the wineries – lots of money there). But one of the more ironic twists in my father’s gardening journey was his discovery that dried grapevines make a terrific artistic medium. My father taught junior high and coached. All his life he has been an avid sports fan – both professional and college. Being a teacher, and a sports fan - he would sometimes remark on the academic potential of college athletes who seemed (at least in interviews) to not be terribly bright. My dad’s go-to comment was that they were taking “basket weaving” classes.

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Lisa tells me these are not grapes. Shows what I know.

As I said, my father grew up poor, and so he has the attitude of, "Well, why should I buy that? I can make it myself?" One of the first businesses he and Cyndi tackled was flowers for weddings. And one of the common elements of those arrangements is a "flower basket." They grew the flowers, but where to get the baskets? Dad convinced himself (and his clients) that he could weave them out of dried grapevines. And he succeeded. Thus my father found that weaving baskets was not something to be taken lightly, and also (when filled with flowers for a wedding) could be very lucrative.

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A friendly visitor.... wild grasses... and a Honeysuckle Trumpet (not all Dad's plants are natives)

Now in his late 70’s, my father has slowed down. The garden around his home is still immaculate. It is filled with gorgeous flowers, grasses, and trees. He does have some edible plants, but they are mostly planted for their appearance - such as an exquisite dwarf lemon tree - rather than to be eaten. His garden attracts all manner of pollinators and even the occasional wild animal (moose, fox, deer, rabbits have all been seen wandering onto the property). He still has large greenhouses where he grows plants both to sell and for landscaping. But nowadays he spends most of his time designing, and he lets younger hands lift the heavy trees and do the planting.

But if you ever get out to Walla Walla (and trust me, the only reason you would wind up in Walla Walla is if that was your destination) – it is worth a short trip down 3rd street to see My Grandmother’s Garden and Thompson Landscapes.

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Insect Week at the Dragon Flower Mini-Farm

 

Grasshopper on mailbox
Is it trying to intercept our mail?

Those of you who follow me on Instagram probably noticed a recent obsession with insects. One of the great things about being back in the Midwest is that there seem to be more of them here. It was actually something my husband Anthony and I thought about when we contemplated moving to St. Louis in 2017: The bugs. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we certainly didn't miss mosquitoes. Or chiggers.

But butterflies are something else. Not that there aren't any in the PNW; there just aren't as many, or at least it seems that way to me (it's probably all the rain and cool weather). Above all, I missed that most royal of lepidoptera: the monarch. Missouri is prime monarch breeding territory, where new caterpillars gorge themselves until they turn into the gorgeous, black-vein-and-orange butterflies recognized everywhere. After that, they fly to one small forest in Mexico, a 2,000-mile journey, to overwinter, a feat made even more amazing by the fact that they've never been there before. The trip the previous year was made by their kin five generations ago.

I have fond memories of hiking at the Shaw Nature Reserve and getting dive-bombed by swarms of monarchs, and their lookalikes, viceroys. While twenty years later I have yet to experience that again, the butterflies I'm seeing while hiking and just hanging out in my yard are a truly happy sight.

Monarch on flower
Monarch on native bee balm at the Powder Valley Nature Reserve.

There's a Butterfly House here in Missouri, a colorful museum/info center/tribute to the lepidoptera, and perhaps more importantly, there are huge campaigns to bring back their waning food sources, the vast prairies lost to agriculture and development. Prairies here used to cover a territory the size of California, but they've been reduced by 96%. Which means that the very beings we rely on for our own food source - without pollinators, our crops won't grow - are getting starved out.

Sorry to be a downer... But now you see why the Dragon Flower Mini-Farm is so important (don't know what this mini-farm biz is? See here.) We're working up a plan to remove invasives that do little to help the ecosystem butterflies and other pollinators thrive in. We also want to include native plants in our revamp of this overgrown lot of boring, ecologically suspect grass and outdated ornamentals. 

That's why Anthony and I spent a recent Sunday afternoon with two people from the St. Louis Audubon Society, who answered our questions and shared their expertise with us. Through a totally awesome program called "Bring Conservation Home," they are giving our yard an assessment, with recommendations to make it more friendly to pollinators and other critters.

Praying mantis on window
OMG, this showed up in our WINDOW. Chaco the cat went berzerk.

When we nerd out on something, WE REALLY NERD OUT ON IT. So when our Audubon folks showed up, we met them with a list of questions and a paper copy of our property survey with some of the preliminary design sketched out. (I know, right? Overachieving even in the hobbies.)

It's a good thing I took notes, because some of what I thought about the yard turned out to be totally wrong. I'd been pulling out native milkweed, which monarchs LOVE, and tenderly making room for a white clematis that while lovely, acts like an invasive thug here in Missouri. It's not entirely my fault; some of the misinformation actually came from fence and landscaping contractors who bid on projects.

But one of the things our Audubon experts talked about was that insects should be welcome in a yard, not just pollinators, but other beneficials as well, from spiders to lacewings. A diverse crop of such insects is a sign of health.

When we moved in last fall, there were ladybugs everywhere. And this spring, when I saw the first firefly wink on at dusk, I knew I was home.

Want to read more on the butterfly theme? Check out my poem published by Town Creek Poetry, "Requiem for Lepidoptera."

All photos/video mine. Sources for some of the above knowledge bombs that I read and got stuck in my head: pamphlets/web sites/exhibits published and curated by the Missouri Department of Conservation, St. Louis Audubon Society, and the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center.