Triathlete and mom of two, Elise Winter, doesn’t have to travel far to escape the hustle and bustle of training, parenting and her job as a graphic designer. Just a few steps into the backyard and she is surrounded by all things “garden” – fruit trees, chickens, a horse, tall stalks of artichokes and the gentle humming of bees that are enjoying all this lively garden has to offer.  And on the hot summer days this shaded space seconds as the perfect place for family whiffle ball or a game of fetch with their 15 month old Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Now that summer is officially here there is no better time than now to start your own summer garden.  Read more about Elise’s garden, her tips for getting started and one of her favorite summer recipes below.


When did you start gardening?

About 16 years ago, soon after my husband and I bought our first house.


Why garden?

Best tasting produce ever! You’ll never eat a store bought tomato again. There is something special about growing and nurturing a garden and literally seeing (and eating) the fruits of your labor.


What do you love most about your garden?

Last year my husband re-did the garden for mother’s day. It’s a beautiful space with some whimsical features, including my daughter’s fairy garden under some trees. So not only do I love growing fruits, veggies, and flowers in my garden it’s also a space for relaxation, reflection, and creativity.


What do you currently have growing in your garden?

Currently I have: sweet corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, basil, carrots, beets, artichokes, onions, oregano, lemongrass, thyme, mint, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, watermelon, pumpkins (for Halloween!), pole beans, sugar snap peas, and a variety of squash plants. Along with some of the same my kids are also growing sunflowers and ornamental corn. This year they each got their own garden bed to grow summer plants of their choice.


smd-designs.comAbout how much produce does your garden yield?

That’s a hard question! Each year is so different. During the cooler months there is enough lettuce to have a salad each night (and give to friends). We got about 10 cantaloupes & honeydew last summer, maybe 15 ears of corn, and more bell peppers & tomatoes than we knew what to do with! My daughter (6) often goes out to pull up carrots, she won’t eat store bought anymore. I have fun finding recipes to use everything in the garden or sometimes just sit out there and pick and eat.


What are your three favorite things to grow?

Just three?  I do love tomatoes, they thrive in this hot summer climate and nothing is better than homegrown tomatoes. In the Fall/Winter I love mandarins, the two trees we have were here when we moved in 11 years ago. They produce so much fruit!  Also in the cooler months another favorite is Arugula, super easy to grow and it’s a never-ending supply.


What advice do you have for people looking to start their first backyard garden?

  • Know your climate zone and plant what works for that zone. Even if the big box stores sell the plants in your area it doesn’t mean they will grow well.
  • Figure out where your garden will be and see how much sunlight it gets a day, and what time of day it gets that sun (morning, noon, late sun). That will be a big facture on what you can grow. Typically you need 8 hours of full sun for a veggie garden.
  • I’ve heard you should start small. Build just one garden box or even use pots. Many fruits and veggies do well in pots. But if you have the time and space, I say put in as many garden boxes as you want!!
  • Figure out a watering system. Either by hand or use timers. But make sure there is an easy way to get water to your garden.
  • Know your soil and amend if needed.
  • Go to your local Nursery and ask them questions! They are full of great information and can help you get started.


What are some easy vegetables newbies could start with?

  • If you live in a cooler climate lettuces are wonderful. For where I live they do really well once Fall starts. The leaf variety is so nice because you cut what you need then in a few days it grows back! It seems like a never-ending supply of salad!
  • For warmer summer climates tomatoes are great, cherry tomatoes typically produce an abundance of fruit. My daughter and I love the Sun Sugar variety.
  • If you have a little bit of room squash will produce like gangbusters.


Favorite recipe to make with items from your garden?

I love Arugula … here is a great recipe I found and use often when this lettuce is in season.

Asian Pear and Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 5 ounces baby arugula
  • 3 Asian pears (1 1/2 pounds)—peeled, cored and very thinly sliced on a mandoline, cores discarded
  • 1/2 cup salted roasted pumpkin seeds
  • 3 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Sea salt, for sprinkling


  • In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice, honey and chopped thyme. Season the salad dressing with salt and pepper.
  • In a large bowl, toss the arugula with the pear slices and pumpkin seeds. Add the dressing and toss well. Top with the crumbled goat cheese, sprinkle lightly with sea salt and serve right away.


The salad dressing can be refrigerated overnight.


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