A Recipe for a Summer Garden

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This garden is tailored specifically for a small backyard plot in Lexington, Kentucky by Sherry Maddock, proprietor of 4th Street Farm.

Garden Plot

Illustration by Tiffany Mitchell (Click for Larger View)


When Derby Day arrives, it’s time to plant a summer garden in Lexington. This recipe provides suggested ingredients and steps for the cultivation of a 4-by-8-foot plot. Using in-season ingredients from local sources, this garden requires creativity, patience, attention and presence, and produces a surprising amount of fresh produce and joy. Before you begin, gather and prepare all your ingredients. Be sure to include culinary herbs such as basil, oregano, Kentucky Colonel mint, chives, thyme or dill, and a diversity of plant varieties, heirlooms if possible. When you buy local plants that have started their life in this region, they are more likely to thrive.

Preparation time: 2-3 hours on a sunny afternoon

Growing time: 1-5 months

Harvest: Times will vary

Feeds: 2-6 people

Equipment: Spade or shovel, trowel, rake, gloves, garden scissors or pruning shears, hose, stakes or cages for climbing vegetables, string, row markers or labels

Ingredients: Good soil, Compost or organic fertilizer, Mulch, Water, Sunlight

The Step by Step

1. Select a garden site with plenty of sun (6-8 hours a day).

2. Decide what to grow (See our recommendations and local sources below). Make a list of plants and buy locally; remember to consider what you like to eat most. Once you have decided what you want to grow, sketch a design for the garden and measure a 4-by-8-foot plot.

3. If necessary, remove grass, all weeds and their roots. Clear area.

4. Prepare soil for planting. It is advisable to get your soil tested (see Fayette Co. Cooperative Extension). Add additional soil if needed and mix in compost. Do not work the soil when wet. The best condition for bed preparation is a sunny, dry day without rain the past few days. After bed preparation is finished, refrain from walking on or stepping in the garden, as it will compact soil and roots (Use our illustrated design)

5. Arrange plants with proper spacing on top of the garden bed according to design plan. At this point, you can use wooden stakes and string for straight lines; otherwise, dig holes and add a cup of compost to each. Follow any specific directions accompanying each plant. Gently remove the plants from the growing containers without lifting by the stem. Carefully loosen the roots of each plant and put in at the recommended depth of the soil line. Do not bury too deep. Lightly press soil around the plants.

6. Water upon planting and repeat as needed during the growing season depending on the weather. If rain is inadequate (less than 1 inch/week), then it is better to water deeply once a week. It is preferable to water in the morning.

7. Mulch generously after planting. Add a 2-3 inch layer. This will act as a weed barrier and preserve moisture. Cover all the soil in the plot, leaving a small space only around the base of the plants. Use organic sources of mulch such as shredded hardwood, straw, leaves, or grass clippings. Avoid mulch with dyes or additives. See notes for a preferred option called “living mulch.”

8. Weed regularly so your plants don’t have competition for nutrients and water.

9. Spend time in your garden. Care for it weekly. Harvest with joy. Eat sun-warmed from the garden, or prepare your own Bluegrass plate.


Heirloom tomatoes – recommended varieties include:

“Vinson Watts” (from Morehead, Ky.)

“Granny Cantrell’s German Pink/Red”

“T.C. Jones”

“Matt’s Wild Cherry” (available at Michler’s)



Summer lettuce variety (I like “Jericho” or “French Batavian”)


Kentucky Wonder bush beans or “Mary Moore Greasy” beans from Jackson Co., Ky. – see Bill Best’s heirlooms



Plants and seeds: 

• Lexington Farmers Market • Michler’s • Fayette Seed • Good Foods Co-op • Henkle’s Herbs and Heirlooms • Blue Moon Garlic • Southern States • Bill Best at Sustainable • Mountain Ag Center (located in Berea, Ky.)

Mulch, compost, tools:

• Landscaper’s Corner – “Living Mulch”(compost/ mulch blend) • Chevy Chase Hardware

Educational resources:

• The Fayette Co. Cooperative Extension is a great resource for publications about planting locally, as well as for soil testing assistance. The best local and regional resource for growing vegetables in Kentucky, “Vegetable Cultivars for Kentucky Gardens (ID-133),” is available in full at their website (fayette.ca.uky.edu – search for the title under the “Publications” tab).

• Lexington Public Library and local book stores are also a great resource for helpful books on gardening and planting.

• Local non-profit Seedleaf can provide master community garden and compost training.


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