Jennifer Bartley

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Chances are that Jennifer Bartley's five children have mixed feelings about the garden they helped build behind their parents' Granville house. And in particular about the brick walkways that separate the raised beds of vegetables and flowers.

"We found the bricks when Columbus State (Community College) was tearing down some building for a parking lot," explained Bartley, "but they were all covered with concrete. So it became kind of a punishment. I'd tell them to 'go out and chip some more bricks' if they'd done something wrong."

Well, no matter what Bartley's four sons and one daughter, now grown, think about then, in the here and now, they can all take credit for creating a beautiful garden as a family - and for helping launch their mother's second career. After homeschooling her children while her husband Terry pursued his career as a minister, Bartley embarked on her next career as a landscape architect and author.

Bartley is the author of "The Kitchen Gardener's Handbook," which was released late last year by Timber Press, a Portland, Oregon-based publishing house. The richly detailed book, which features photos and hand drawings from Bartley, is already into its second printing. It follows her 2006 book, "Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook."

A "potager" (pronounced "POH-tuh-jhay") is a French term roughly meaning "for the soup pot" and it has become a synonym for a kitchen garden, said Bartley. The kitchen garden that she and her children built against the back side of the Bartley home is neither large nor elaborate, but its thoughtful and balanced composition yields a steady harvest of vegetables and herbs.

Kitchen gardens, explained Bartley, descend from the French tradition of putting fruits, flowers and vegetables within eyesight of the kitchen and home, and European monasteries really mastered this garden form.

"Contrast that with England," said Bartley (who, after raising the kids, returned to Ohio State in the late '90s to earn undergraduate and master's degrees in landscape architecture). During the Reformation when many monasteries were destroyed, a different landscaping philosophy emerged. The English preferred to see rolling vistas and, from the British Isles came the tradition of front lawns.

"It was no longer fashionable to see the messy kitchen gardens," Bartley said. "They were moved away from the houses, back behind walls and hedges, and the culinary results were disastrous."

She continued: "When you can see your garden, you're more motivated to maintain it and use its produce. There's constant change, but you're connected to what's going on."

Bartley now travels throughout the U.S. to build kitchen gardens for clients. She also maintains a website,, that is packed with recipes and ideas for other home gardeners. And she continues to experiment with the gardens that she and her children started.

Next up? Reclaiming the front lawn. She's carving out a new garden around her front door and has already planted rhubarb, sorrel and a variety of currant bushes.

"Historically, kitchen gardens were also considered healing gardens," Bartley said, explaining the healing came from not just eating the crops grown but feeling the peace that accompanies the slow process of building and maintaining a garden.

"It's great for kids to be involved in a garden," Bartley mused with a smile, "but maybe, as parents, we need that more."