Your Kitchen Garden

Jeanne Kelley is well known for inventing easy recipes that frequently appear in magazines like Bon Appetit and Cooking Light. So it was a bit of a surprise when her first cookbook, Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes From a Modern Kitchen Garden (Running Press, 2008), turned out to be largely about the pleasures of gardening and cooking with homegrown ingredients.

The focus becomes even more surprising when you learn that Kelley lives in Los Angeles, where steep granite hills hold big
houses on little lots — not the sort of place where people typically plant vegetable gardens. Regardless of location or sweat equity, though, gardens have always been a staple of Kelley’s life: Her landscape-designer husband, in fact, once took a jackhammer to granite to make room for a fruit tree in their backyard.

Having a garden, however, doesn’t have to be that difficult, Kelley explains. “I always hear from people who think: “It’s going to take a lot of time to garden; I don’t have any time, it’s impossible.’” To the contrary, she says, there’s really only a day or two that takes a lot of time, and that’s when you first set up your plot, removing sections of lawn, building containers, preparing the soil and so on.

“If you give yourself a place to plant with raised beds and good soil,” she adds, “you’ll find that, once the garden gets established, all it takes is a little bit of maintenance and watering.”

Plus, the willingness to shift some priorities. “People obsess over the Internet, watch TV they don’t even enjoy, do all sorts of things they don’t even want to be doing,” Kelley says. “If you just shoved a few of those things out of your life and brought in nature instead, wouldn’t that be better?” It would, indeed.

During my interview with Kelley, I mention that I’ve always had a tiny flower and herb garden, but that I had lost track of it the year I seemed to do nothing but nurse a colicky baby. The next year, I was surprised to find that my toddler delighted in nothing more than playing with the hose to help water — and this year, I’m thinking of using that to my advantage and putting some pots of lettuce on my front walk.

“That’s how it starts,” she says, laughing. “First you think you don’t have any time and can’t do much, so you start with just a few herbs. Then you see how easy that is, so you think you might like tomatoes. The next year, you put in some lettuces, and when those are done, maybe some greens like kale. Then you find what you’re getting from your garden is so flavorful that it needs less preparation than store-bought vegetables — suddenly your cooking is easier and more delicious. You go to the market less, and that makes you feel good because you’re spending less money. Suddenly you’re a gardener!”

Even the smallest garden offers a multitude of benefits. In fact, just being in the vicinity of a garden can do good things for you. “Sometimes, I’ll just go down to my community garden where I have this beautiful arugula growing, and I just look at it and feel so happy,” Kelley says.

“Gardening is a healthy thing you can add to your life: It’s mild exercise; it gets you outside. Even if you have only a single pot that’s 10 inches in diameter and you plant lettuce in it, you’ll get a couple of salads out of it. Other times, when you’re just making a sandwich and you need only a single leaf of lettuce, you’ll get it from your garden. All of your cooking starts to taste lighter and, I think, a little nicer. Even a simple pot of basil can make such a difference.”

To prove this, Kelley points to her Fresh Pesto Drizzle. It’s a loose pesto of basil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that you can drizzle on tomatoes, goat cheese, burrata (a super-fresh cream-stuffed mozzarella), fried eggs or pasta.

Gardening, Kelley says, has “absolutely” changed the way she cooks. “It totally changes your appreciation for vegetables, partly because they taste better because they’re so fresh, but also because you become so involved with them, watching them grow.”

Twenty years ago, Kelley’s husband rarely installed a vegetable garden for his clients. Now it’s a common request, as more and more people want them for the relaxation and healthful eating they bring to their lives. Maybe gardening is a trend — like yoga and antioxidants — whose time has finally come.

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter.

By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, Experience Life


Jo S.
Jo S1 years ago

Thank you Kara.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

Barbara D.
Barbara D6 years ago


Lori K.
Lori K7 years ago

Yaaaaay Jeannie! I didn't know you wrote a book. I can't wait to buy it, and I loved reading about you.

Chris M.
Chris M.7 years ago

I have co-founded a website with lots of info about organic gardening, such as how to identify insects (good and bad) and how to naturally get rid of the bad ones. Also how to compost, even in small spaces. Check out:

Happy Gardening!

Pamela C.
Pamela C7 years ago

The remark about granite sure brought back memories: I used to live in Tujunga -- north of Los Angeles -- in the foothills. Bedrock was just inches down in the soil, which was jammed with rocks and stones. When I say jammed, I mean only a trickle of soil between. To plant anything, it would take me about an hour to excavate per square foot and replace with bagged soil (my right shoulder has never been the same). I took the rocks and built up scenic mounds around the corners of the yard. I was well rewarded by the peaceful serenity of the resulting green yard. To be able to go out and pick the basil and cherry tomatoes I used in my salad was exciting. It really does close that human-nature gap that store-bought food lacks.

Beth H.
Beth G7 years ago

Miss Info your comments reminded me that gardens grow much more than food. Am so blessed with a nice size garden that calms me and provides for my eating needs. ~Beth~