Gardens with Annie: Curb appeal in the most delicious way

Laura Hall
Whether you are a butterfly or gardener, Rachel Reese’s zinnias are something to behold.

How about just walking out to the curb in a lovely Niceville neighborhood and picking okra for gumbo or having a choice of peppers for an omelet. Let’s see, would you like to have a sweet banana pepper, Thai pepper, or perhaps you are brave enough to try the flame thrower sensation and have some jalapenos? Perhaps we’ll have one of these beautiful eggplants for lunch.

Why hadn’t I thought of this?

Mixing flowers along with vegetables is what Rachel Reese does with great aplomb! Rachel tells me she has to watch the cross pollination of her peppers as her sweet bananas planted next to the others have caused her sweet ones to become a bit spirited. Pulling up to the curb you are welcomed with a beautiful Natchez crepe myrtle that is loaded

with white blossoms that drape over her walkway. It resembles a magnificent white cake that has the icing slipping down the side. I know about this drooping icing thing. Her garden is in transition as she has been working on this for about three years now. She chose to start with the front yard where she gets more sun. Building up an earth berm, she planted roses across the top and mulches with hay. She warned me to let the bale of hay overwinter and get the sprouting over and done with. If you use it right away you might find yourself with a hay garden and cows grazing there in the early morning. Sorry, my comment.

The lovely hyacinth bean, Dolichos lablab (don’t ask me to repeat this if you see me!), is racing with the sun to see if it can reach out to about 10 feet before the cold zaps it. It contains purple or white clusters of flowers followed by velvety, beanlike pods that contain seeds that will be popping up forever. I love it, however, and can’t wait for mine to appear every year.

The front door pots are filled with basil and rosemary and a wooden art sculpture done by son, Elijah, welcomes you at the door. The tall zinnias along the curb are colors of the rainbow, and as they sway in the breeze, they beckon the butterflies and me in for a closer look.

Rachel moved here in 2001 from Texas and her husband, Paul Reese, plant manager for Destin Water Users, grew up in this area. Paul is “Captain Water” and a plant whisperer with Rachel being the architect. She tells me that her grandmother was the one that had the green thumb.

“Plants just oozed around her,” Rachel says, “I’m more like my uncle. I’m a scientist but I do talk to my plants and tell them how beautiful they are.”

I conversed around the garden with many oohhs and ahhs as flower heads bowed in friendly acknowledgement of my deep appreciation. Rachel says the most important factor for gardening is that you need to form your garden with footpaths so you walk through it all the time; this enables you take care of it as you often see its needs.

Being aware of microclimates, if a plant does not thrive where she puts it, she moves it into another spot. The move will traumatize it a bit but it will love you for it later. Her favorite plant is the Louisiana spineless okra that has a blossom that is rather sensual. The blossom draws you in for a closer look at its butter cream yellow petals and deep within is a luscious, deep, mulberry color. A quick and easy recipe that comes from Rachel: Using grandmother’s old hot iron skillet, pour in a bit of olive oil and large chunks of chopped onions and cook, with a sprinkle of salt if desired, until onions begin to soften. Take out and set aside. Add a bit more olive oil and sauté sliced okra. When okra begins to soften, throw the onions back in, add garlic, salt and pepper and VIOLA!!! There it is … yummy!

Out back, the garden is a work in progress; along the high berm in the back is the walkway or footpath underneath the high privacy fence and all along the side.

This must be a very artistic family. Rachel is a word artist among many other independent endeavors and daughter, Grace, has adorned the back fence with a bright painting on canvas that draws your eye all the way across the garden.

After touring the garden on a hot summer day, we were off to Café Bienville in Niceville, and I had a Mojo Sliced Chicken sandwich that was scrumptious and so large I had a hard time getting my mouth around it. This was accompanied by paper thin, wide, hot, curled and crunchy sweet potato slices with a light coating of salt that were the best I have ever had. I’ll do an article on Bienville if my editor lets me stray from my gardens. It was a wonderful day spent with a wonderful and self reliant lady and the homemade Cookie Dough gelato at Bienville was sooo good. I drove back the next day to try the Peanut Butter gelato. Only six more flavors to go; see you there tomorrow.

I’m thinking lemon perhaps.

Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens with her cavalier spaniel Annie. If you would like to show off your garden, contact Laura at 837-8720.