Family Roots

A glorious garden collaboration in Montgomery, Alabama.

By Denise Gee

Photography by Robert M. Peacock


Who says vegetables are ugly? They add beauty to a garden in addition to flowers.Jason, by this time in Tucson, Arizona, knew work meant a great deal to his mother, but he also recognized that she needed an outlet for her stress. "He kept saying, 'Wouldn't you like to have a garden? You'd really enjoy it,' "Bari recalls. "Or he'd say, 'Be sure to leave a little space for a garden.' " That seemed all well and good, Bari says, but she'd never had the time or space to tend more than a small plot of vegetables. It might be more trouble than it would be worth. Jason saw the possibilities as catharsis, not labor. "There was a rigidity in her work," he says. "I knew a garden would ease that."

"I began realizing maybe a garden could actually be enjoyable," Bari says. "A place where I wouldn't have to worry about work, and everything being so perfect." Jason was happy she'd seen the light, but a simple flowerbed didn't make complete sense to him considering Bari had begun following an organic vegetarian diet. A kitchen garden made more sense—one with Southern styling, like Bari imagined. "Most people think vegetables aren't attractive," Jason says. "What I wanted to help do was prove otherwise."

The real secret to this garden collaboration was the strong mother-son bond.Bari bought in to the notion but wasn't sure how they could pull it off. For starters, Jason was more than 1,600 miles away. But once he had made numerous trips home to walk the space, shareideas, and collaborate on design, a plan emerged. Using materials salvaged from an old barn, building began on the garden shed, which was nestled under a towering tree blanketed with Spanish moss. That left only a 15-by-30-foot space for the garden, which would include three raised beds and a central fountain. Then there were neighborhood association hurdles to clear, as well asamending the dense clay soil and improving its drainage. Furthermore, what local landscaper could help her establish the realm she and Jason envisioned?

"It really brought us closer together. It's a thread that leads us to still talk almost every day." The garden would enlist locally sourced materials, water-saving techniques, and organic products. The mother-son phone calls were nonstop. "Jason kept saying, 'It'll be fine. There is a method to the madness,'" Bari recalls. To which Jason says with a laugh, "You can't imagine how fun it is doing irrigation long distance."