Inspired by Italian gardens, a pediatrician turns her own backyard into a source of food and experimentation
Julie La Barba Miggins doesn’t like to admit it now, but the lush garden at her Olmos Park home on Hermosa Drive grew out of embarrassment.
A few years ago, she traveled to Sicily to visit her extended family and was amazed by their home gardens. They crafted beautiful meals using produce they had grown and expressed an intense love of cultivating the land. As she was enjoying the Italian way of life, La Barba Miggins thought about her own yard. “I was so embarrassed that with all the land we have, we were just growing grass,” she says.
As a pediatrician and the medical director of CHEF (Culinary Health Education for Families) at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, La Barba Miggins dedicates her life to fighting childhood obesity. And for years, she had made meals for her husband and four children using local, organic produce purchased at farmers markets, but it had never occurred to her to grow food herself.
When she returned from Italy, she began planning a garden. She was extremely methodical, carefully carefully plotting each square foot of the garden on pieces of graph paper. But even with the best laid plans, she worried about her skills, so she asked family members and neighbors for help. They taught her how to plant and weed. They guided her in selecting hardy plants that didn’t require too much care. And they helped her develop a more relaxed approach to gardening. “At first I was so systematic about everything—so medical,” she says. “My neighbor kept reminding me that in gardening there are no mistakes.”
Now, after three years, La Barba Miggins says she’s embraced a more experimental style of gardening. She still looks at her sketches, but her plans are more casual. “I realized no one was looking at them except for me,” she says, laughing.
These days, her garden is arranged into four square plots of herbs, such as parsley, mint and basil, and three long rows of vegetables. In the summer, those may contain tomatoes and peppers and in the fall months, crops like cabbage, Swiss chard, broccoli and gourds.
She also likes to try experimenting with something new every season. Instead of always planting in clean rows, she’ll just throw a handful of seeds into one of the beds. The past few seasons, she has also started planting flowers next to vegetables. Last season, she tried to see how high she could grow vegetables on trellises. She grew olive trees just to see if she could.
While balancing a demanding job and motherhood, La Barba Miggins has also developed a new outlook on her garden. “In the beginning I was into the design and how it looked,” she says. “Now, I just want it to produce what we can eat and give the rest to neighbors. And if a plant needs a lot of babying, it shouldn’t be in my garden. I want to enjoy it.”
San Antonio Magazine – by Allison Copenbarger Vance