He's Got the Dirt: Jim Wilson's Missouri Cottage Garden

A gardening guru shares the secrets of his lush Missouri cottage garden.

| March/April 2007

  • Jim and Janie's 15-acre parklike property flourishes with the dedicated attention of the gardening partners. Their pond has a manmade island that's lavishly landscaped and equipped with an outdoor dining room.
    Photos by Diane Guthrie
  • Landscape designer Janie Mandel and garden expert Jim Wilson are partners and best friends.
  • A nearby herb garden is convenient for the kitchen harvest. The house affords season-extending protection from harsh spring winds and provides summer shade.
  • Janie used her millstone collection as the stepping stones on this well-mulched path.

Jim Wilson knows gardens. Author of 14 garden books and former cohost of the PBS show “Victory Garden,” he’s advised and inspired countless gardeners. Retired (for the fifth time), Jim isn’t slowing down—he now can dedicate time to his own garden, and donates fresh herbs and vegetables to the Central Missouri Food Bank.

The home of Jim and his partner, Janie Lynn Mandel, called  Friendship Farm, includes a meticulously landscaped cottage garden on 15 acres in Columbia, Missouri. “She’s a designer. I’m a grower,” Jim says as he plucks a stray weed from the light and crumbly soil. “We like to keep it neat.”

Jim’s years of gardening experience mean he has quite a few gardening tricks up his sleeves. He and Janie have divided their 1,000-square-foot cottage garden into handy mini-gardens that they easily can plant, harvest and then rotate into the next succession crop. The little garden spot is filled with cool-season greens—lettuces, chard and spinach—along with sweet peas planted for fragrance and color. As the Missouri summer heats up, the couple will harvest the early spring greens and replace them with summer squash and cucumbers. Fall crops of collards, lettuce, spinach and turnips will wind up the garden season in the same well-tended soil.

Other garden areas are loaded with rotating crops, such as spring onions, which will be followed by edamame soybeans. Tomatoes and peppers are hardening off in a protected area as they wait for warmer weather and their turn in the nutrient-dense garden soil.

Jim’s years of garden experience also have taught him a few techniques to keep pests out of the garden—without chemicals. Jim and Janie carefully monitor plants to get early control of invading insect populations, which allows them to keep insecticides out of the food garden.

“I’m not saying that we don’t have our share of cinch bugs and squash bugs,” Jim says. “For example, earlier this spring the asparagus beetles moved in. We had to go through and smash the larvae by hand to get them under control.”

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