What Happens When Veggies Are in the Spotlight

The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden has created a three-and-a-half-acre garden where veggies are in the spotlight. Eight years in planning and creation, A Tasteful Place opened in October 2017. Complete with a lagoon and a view of the downtown Dallas skyline, the edibles garden welcomes visitors into delightful displays of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers. A Tasteful Place’s mission is to expose guests to the ideas and practices of growing and eating sustainable, fresh, locally grown food.

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Visitors to Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden explore A Tasteful Place, the instructive edible garden that opened in fall of 2017.-

We spoke with Jenny Wegley, Dallas Arboretum’s Vice-President of Horticulture and the designer of A Tasteful Place.

Horticulture: Tell us why the arboretum has devoted such an investment—8 years and $12 million dollars—to A Tasteful Place.
Jenny Wegley: We hope to encourage and inspire our guests to see their food in a whole new light, not just hand to mouth, but farm to table. This edible display garden focuses on good health and nutrition and is a meaningful addition to the arboretum’s 66 acres. We offer regular classes and educational programs in which our guests get to see the food growing and then learn how to cook and enjoy it. Plus, the garden gets used for special events.

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The pavilion at A Tasteful Place hosts regular classes and educational programs that cover both growing and cooking fresh produce.

H: Was A Tasteful Place converted from ornamental gardens already a part of the arboretum grounds? Or, was property annexed or donated to the arboretum? How did you carve out this edibles garden?
JW: No new property was added to the arboretum; its 66 acres are landlocked. A Tasteful Place now sits on land that we used as our horticulture overflow area. It’s where we composted plants removed from previous displays around the gardens.

The 1.4-acre lagoon was part of the master plan and it required a special expertise. We hired a landscape architecture firm to do the lagoon because planning for water is a whole different ball game.

H: How did you prep the soil?
JW: We brought in a heavily organic soil for all of the actual growing beds. A lot of it.

H: Are edibles grown year-round? If so, what is grown when?
JW: Yes, edibles are grown year-round. In fall we grow peppers, pumpkins and squash. In winter there is broccoli, mustards and lettuce. Spring brings beans, carrots and tomatoes, and in summer you’ll find eggplant, okra and peppers in the plots.

H: Is all the food that’s grown used on the grounds or do you partner with other organizations?
JW: We use as much of the food as we can on the grounds in the restaurants or for the special classes and events. We are developing relationships with local food banks, colleges and hospitals to ensure everything we grow gets used.

H: In what USDA Hardiness Zone is the garden located and about how much annual rainfall do you get?
JW: Technically it’s located in Zone 7a/8b. It depends on the kind of winter we get. Our rainfall can be 41 inches in a good year. We’ve had more rainfall in the last 3 years than I can recall. We were in a drought for 10 years, then the last 3 years we’ve gotten more rain.

H: Does the arboretum participate in any trials?
JW: Yes, we have a huge trial program that’s been going strong for 16 years. We began plant trials in 2002 and since then have trialed nearly 1.5 million plants! We especially do heat-tolerance trials. If we can’t kill it, no one can. [Editor’s note: The average high temperature in July is 96˚F and the average low for that same month is 77˚F.] I run the trial program, and over the last six years we’ve been focusing on veggies. We do have the All-America Selections trial gardens on the property, just not located in A Tasteful Place.

Patty Craft is content director for Horticulture. This article first appeared in the March/April 2018 issue Horticulture which you can download here.

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