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A family garden in Ashland keeps three generations growing together

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Carlyle Stout’s granddaughters, Nora, Lucia and Viviana, are the third-generation of Stout family gardeners. Photos courtesy of Carlyle Stout
The Stout family vegetable garden is laid out in a neat grid of raised beds with wood chip pathways in between.
Carlyle Stout in his Ashland garden.
Hoops on Carlyle’s raised beds can be covered to offer protection to plants when needed.
Carlyle Stout and his granddaughters.
Carlyle told me me he ran out of the house in his robe and bare feet to capture a picture of one of the few rainbows we’ve had so far in 2021.

“Some gardeners will remember from their own earliest recollections that no one sees the garden as vividly, or cares about it as passionately, as the child who grows up in it.” – Carol Williams, “Bringing a Garden to Life,” 1998

If (when!) I retire, I want to live as zestfully as Carlyle Stout. I met Carlyle, a former real estate/business attorney, when he invited me to visit his vegetable garden and orchard in Ashland. However, we scheduled our meetings around a surf trip to Costa Rica with his wife, Barbara, a jaunt to the Northern California coast, and a fishing day out on Jenny Creek inside the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Carlyle is definitely not sitting around wondering what to do with the rest of his life.

Yet when Carlyle is at home in Ashland where he and “Barb” raised their four children — Kevin, Trina, Michael and Brian — he can usually be found in the vegetable garden out back that includes about 40 raised beds. Either there, or he may be roaming down the orchard paths lined with blueberry, raspberry, marionberry and boysenberry bushes on one side and apple, pear, peach, plum, cherry and fig trees on the other. He might be with one of his granddaughters — Nora, Viviana or Lucia — pointing out this or that about the plants growing in the garden. That’s when Carlyle is fully in his element.

“For me, gardening is spiritual, physical, mental and emotional,” Carlyle told me. “It’s an absolute joy for me to be out there working with my hands, growing my own food without chemicals or pesticides.”

Carlyle’s love for gardening began when he was in the Peace Corps with Barb, teaching school teachers in Guatemala how to grow food organically with their students. When he and Barb later bought a home in Ashland, he made sure there was enough room to raise vegetables, as well as the kids. Gardening became a family activity that made a big impact on the Stout children, now grown, who have all returned to Ashland to pursue their careers, raise their own kids, and continue the family tradition of gardening together.

Kevin, especially, has become involved in the family garden. After graduating from law school in 2009, he moved back to Ashland and took on the project of expanding the number of raised beds in the family garden and adding features that make the garden operate efficiently. He grows tomato, pepper and melon starts in his own greenhouse so they have a good head start before planting them out in the beds.

Like his dad before him, Kevin uses his hands-on work in the garden to relieve some of the stress of his job as a lawyer. Kevin represents children in deportation and domestic violence cases.

Kevin said, “Another thing I like about the garden is being able to cook with fresh ingredients.” He mentioned that his sister, Trina, just recently moved back to Ashland, and the family garden was one part of her decision. “Growing, harvesting and cooking food from the garden is a way of bringing the whole family together,” Kevin said.

He and his wife, Ali, are building a house next door and converting an old shed on the property into a greenhouse. They’re excited that their daughter, Viviana, will be able to grow up in the family garden like Kevin did.

The Stout family garden spans two-thirds of an acre with a neat grid of raised beds, most of which are 4-by-8-feet wide and long and 15 inches tall. Some of the beds are positioned facing east-west and others positioned facing north-south. A wide grassy area separates the vegetable garden from the orchard. The entire area is open, so all of the plants in the garden receive plenty of direct sunlight throughout the day. The beds are watered from a creek that runs across the bottom of the property; driplines installed in the beds run on automatic timers. Overhead sprinklers are used for the berry bushes.

The beds are not tilled; instead, Kevin bought a broadfork to break up compacted soil before adding compost and planting in the spring. The Stouts use shredded plant debris and kitchen scraps to make compost, and they supplement what they make by having compost delivered from a local supplier. To eliminate varmints from getting into the compost, bins were built with hardware cloth and a cover.

A cold frame is useful for hardening off starts after they leave Kevin’s greenhouse and for overwintering some of the plants.

Carlyle attributes the productivity of the garden to healthy soil. He said the Jackson County Master Gardener Association’s “Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley” (2017) helps them figure out what and when to grow. In fact, he and Kevin agree that the OSU Extension Service provides a wealth of information that helps them keep improving their gardening practices. Recently, they’ve started planting pollinator-friendly flowers in the raised beds and are beginning to experiment with companion planting.

“Successful gardening is not all intuitive. I’ve learned a lot (from the OSU Extension) about soil health and orchard management,” Kevin told me.

Carlyle noted that a successful garden doesn’t mean a pest-free garden, but he doesn’t let the challenges stress him out. He said, “A wise gardener plants three seeds: one for the bugs, one for the weather and one for himself.”

I bet Carlyle has taught his kids and grandkids that very same lesson.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, check out her podcasts and videos at https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener.

Share your garden story

I would love to talk with you about your garden and share your garden story in an upcoming column. Email me at rnowak39@gmail.com. I’ll be sharing my garden story from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 3, when the Bard’s Garden at Historic Hanley Farm will be open for self-guided tours and Shakespeare-inspired tastings. The Southern Oregon Historical Society also will be hosting a mini plant sale. See you at the farm, 1053 Hanley Road in Central Point (just west of Medford and north of Jacksonville).