raised beds

Winner, garden of the year, San Diego Home and Garden Lifestyles Magazine, 2003.

Featured in San Diego Home and Garden Lifestyles Spring Garden Guide, 2002.

Not many years ago, in a charming rural community called Elfin Forest, California, there lived a dear little basset hound named Ciao Bella. Her name is Italian and means "Hi Gorgeous!" She
loved everyone and everything, even rabbits. Her people loved her, too, and painted portraits of her. When Ciao Bella Ciao Bellamoved on to doggy heaven, her people, Evelyn and Joe Alemanni, thought of her often. In 2001, they visited the famous potager of Villandry in France. There, Joe was inspired to build his own vegetable garden when he returned home. 

Their 5.5 acre property included an unused barn and a flat area that had once been a horse corral. Joe thought it would be perfect for his garden. But Evelyn had doubts. She was the one who mowed the weeds, and she knew that even weeds didn't like to grow there because of the lack of topsoil and the granite just inches below the surface.

"I will name my garden after our sweet Ciao Bella," Joe said, and got started. He dug nearly 1/2 mile of trenches to bring water and electricity to the pad. Then he installed irrigation lines and hauled 120 railroad ties to make raised beds. Joe surrounded the sides of the raised beds with plastic to prevent the creosote from leaching into the soil. Then he filled them with imported topsoil, manure, and stable compost.

He jack-hammered holes for fence posts into solid granite and installed the vinyl fence, adding 3' of chicken wire to keep out the bunnies. Meanwhile Evelyn started vegetable plants in her greenhouse.

Inside the barn, Joe installed water, electricity, a sink, countertop, and places to hang tools, and a white board to serve as a garden journal. Evelyn cleaned and painted the barn's interior. Ciao Bella's portrait and photos of all the other bassets that the Alemanni's had owned during their marriage were hung on the wall. Evelyn designed and printed fabric to use as a curtain by the sink and as a table covering. She stencilled flowers on the beams, and a "carpet" on the cement floor. On the beams over the windows, she stencilled "Ciao Bella's Garden."

barn interior barn interior barn interior

The garden area is 6800 square feet - larger than most suburban lots in the surrounding cities. The raised beds are 4' wide, and most of them are 25' long. They were laid out so that a pickup truck could drive down the center of the garden to deliver compost and manure.

tomatoes tomato basket cabbage and lettuce

The irrigation system is automatically controlled and includes four circuits. Each bed has its own shutoff valve so that it can be taken out of service and so its water flow can be fine-tuned. Soaker hoses are used in each bed.

Raised beds make this garden possible. A few inches of soil cover solid granite just below. Each bed is constructed of railroad ties anchored to the ground with rebar. The bottom is lined with chicken wire to keep gophers out.

Beds are filled with a "layer cake" starting with 2" of stable compost (courtesy of the neighbor's horses), 2" of manure from a farmer nearby, and 4" of amended topsoil. Alfalfa straw covers the soil to prevent weeds and retain moisture.

Flowering companion plants attract bees and other beneficial insects. Joe thinks Ev made that up so she could plant more flowers!

The 2005 addition to the garden is a pickup truck with Ciao Bella's face on the hood and her portrait on both sides.

tomato plants pumpkins