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Vegetable Gardening Italian-Style

Lisa Forleo
Lisa Forleo has created an especially personal garden at her home in Linden, N.J.

With a demanding day job in customer service, Lisa Forleo finds the garden she's created around her suburban home in Linden, N.J., is a welcome retreat. "After a long day at work, I like to walk barefoot across the lawn and get my hands in the dirt. It makes me feel better about myself," she says.

Lisa's Veggies

Lisa's yard hasn't always been so inviting. When she and her husband moved into this home seven years ago, the landscape was a blank canvas. "We started by removing some hedges and then began creating island flower beds and raised beds for the vegetables," says Lisa.

Having married into an Italian family, growing vegetables is a priority. "I have eight, 3 x 3-foot Grow Beds. I have pushed several of them together to make larger, 3 x 9-foot beds. This is where I grow most of my vegetables, especially the Italian tomato varieties, such San Marzano, and Italian peppers, such as Marconi," says Lisa. Her in-laws are helping her learn about Italian cooking. She grows the food, and they teach her how to cook it. "I can whip up a mean tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil salad, but homemade tomato sauce is a work in progress," says Lisa.

To help ensure her vegetable-growing success, Lisa uses all-purpose organic fertilizer from Gardener's Supply. One year she compared the growth of veggies fertilized with conventional fertilizer and veggies fertilized with the organic fertilizer. "It's amazing the difference in the growth rates," she says. "My organically fertilized lettuce, broccoli and tomatoes were all much larger than the conventionally fertilized beds." Each summer she produces enough tomatoes to feed her husband, in-laws and neighbors, too.


Lisa also grows tomatoes and cucumbers in Tomato Success Kits. "I've used these kits for 10 years and I really like the red plastic mulch. The kits with the red mulch really do produce more tomatoes," she says.

Lisa's Oasis

Lisa also has planted a number of beds for color and to attract wildlife. Butterfly bushes, crabapple trees and evergreens, such as cypress attract, protect and feed birds and butterflies. Lisa uses birdbaths to provide water for her feathered friends. "The terra cotta birdbath is attractive and very sturdy. It's a party place for my winged friends," says Lisa. "I've used Water Rings to keep young trees, such as birch and crabapple, watered well. It's great because I can fill them only a few times a week and don't have to worry about them drying out," she says. Lisa leaves the water rings around her new trees and shrubs for two years so they can get a strong foothold.

The Memorial Garden

Another part of Lisa's garden is more personal. It's a memorial garden inspired by her memories of loved ones. There's a special lilac bush in honor of her mother who died when Lisa was 10 years old. Her grandmother recently passed away and loved roses—particularly the Mr. Lincoln red rose. "She helped me plant that rose and placed a banana peel in the planting hole, believing it would help the rose grow better," says Lisa. The rose is loaded with blooms.

She also has a section in honor of the late Pope John Paul II. There's a rose named after the Pope that has small, white, fragrant flowers. She also has four clematis varieties that honor the Pope: one variety represents his hometown in Poland; one has flowers the color of his eyes; one has flowers the color of his hat (mitre); and one is the color of his cloak.

Whether it's growing vegetables to feed her family, shrubs to feed birds and butterflies, or flowers to preserve her memories of loved ones, Lisa's garden is a unique and personal sanctuary where she is surrounded by some of the many things that are important to her.

Last updated: 10/24/15