In the Garden: The Edible Lawn
A Virginia landscape architect creates custom homesteads with instant polish
Cabell Cox wants to rip up your lawn. Yes, that manicured expanse of deep-green turf that you’ve fertilized, irrigated, mowed, edged, and otherwise obsessed into lush perfection. He wants to tear it out like so much knotweed and replace it with snap peas and turnips, maybe even a few chickens scratching around in the dirt.
Residents of Cox’s hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, are paying him to do just that. “My clients are ready to grow their own food,” says Cox, who launched a specialized landscape design firm, the Grow Co., two summers ago to facilitate the homesteading urge. “But they want to do it right.”
Translation: Not only do house-proud Charlottesvillians want their new backyard patches to sprout brag-worthy bushels of squash and heirloom tomatoes, they would also like their little Edens to look as handsome as the rest of their properties. Luckily, Cox has the skills to deliver both, having graduated from the University of Georgia in 2009 with a degree in landscape architecture and a minor in horticulture.
At the 2.5-acre Shields family home, Cox transformed a featureless, sloping side yard into a quartet of raised beds sprouting lettuce, zucchini, okra, strawberries, and sunflowers. “I needed somebody to set all of this up because I didn’t know how to get started,” says Anna Shields, who had never so much as grown a cherry tomato before last year. “Now we’ve got a huge, beautiful garden.” To create a fashionable, edible garden at a stately home in the Farmington Country Club neighborhood, Cox installed a series of trapezoidal beds surrounded by blue-slate walkways—no need to even dirty your knees when picking an eggplant here.
Cox doesn’t just plant vegetables. He has designed bee boxes and orchards, and at the Shields house, he custom-built a chicken coop to match the aesthetics of the main residence. Three plump Buff Orpingtons and two Araucanas provide almost half a dozen eggs (brown and blue) each day, not to mention a lesson in permaculture—scraps and caterpillars from the garden are tossed over to feed the chickens, who return the favor with rich manure compost.
Cox isn’t the only expert offering assisted-homesteader guidance. In fact, two competing outfits planted their spades in Charlottesville around the same time he did. But his ability to tuck the verdant chaos of a kitchen garden into the principles of upscale landscape design gives him a rubber-booted leg up in this emerging sector.
Of course, Cox is also trying to steal a few moments at his new HQ, a retired racetrack where he’s building a greenhouse, planting a 130-tree orchard, and converting a former stable into a deluxe chicken coop. And maybe sneak in some fly-fishing, too. This time of year, though, his smartphone doesn’t stop ringing for long.