When Molly Chappellet arrived at her new home on Pritchard Hill more than thirty years ago, one of the things she was struck by was the beauty of the neighboring Napa Valley gardens. The rocky landscape and fertile soil that produce world-class wine grapes are also ideal for sprawling, generous vegetable gardens, which Molly features in her book, "Gardens of the Wine Country." Today, Martha joins Molly on a tour of her gardens.
In the main vegetable garden, lavender is interspersed with purple basil and salad plants -- added because Molly wanted the constancy of a perennial in the midst of all the annual vegetables. Kitchen-garden standards like tomatoes and peppers are accompanied by rows of catnip and rolling mounds of santolina. Aside from gathering ingredients from the garden for supper, Molly likes to collect extraordinary specimens with which to decorate her house. One of her signature techniques is taking oversized plants, such as giant stalks of corn, and using them as ornaments for a mantel, or even centerpieces for a table.
In the lower garden, plants that were once carefully cultivated have been allowed to go wild. Artichokes have reverted to thistles -- some fourteen feet high. Martha cuts a thistle from its tall stalk, in hopes of taking it home and propagating the plant from some of the dry seeds that freely blow around Molly's garden and sow themselves. As they wander through the garden, Martha notices an unusual mulch underfoot. It's what Molly refers to as "vintner's caviar" -- the grape seeds and skin that are the by-products of winemaking, and one of the nutrient-rich secrets of bounteous Napa Valley gardens. Everything Molly uses in the garden is natural: She cuts branches to prop up sagging plants and builds arches from bamboo to add architectural elements. Sunflowers and pumpkins also grow in the wild garden; on their way back to the house, Martha and Molly choose a couple of large, brilliant orange pumpkins to adorn the dinner table for the evening.
Learn more about Molly Chappellet's Chappellet Winery. Molly Chappellet's books "A Vineyard Garden: Ideas from the Earth for Growing, Cooking, and Entertaining" and "Gardens of the Wine Country" are available on Amazon.