Home Design: The New Cozy

With “going out” and “getting away” feeling like relics of a more carefree era, today’s homeowners are creating all-inclusive retreats within their own four walls.

The Do-It-Yourself Produce Aisle

As one Roxbury mom proves, urban farmers can reap fresh flavors and serious savings.

Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl. (photograph courtesy of patti moreno)

In an economy as sour as a bushel of green apples, families looking to trim their food bill are scouring the supermarkets in search of deals. Yet affordable groceries can be as close as your own backyard, as Roxbury’s Patti Moreno demonstrates: Working a quartet of plots on her three-quarter-acre property in Highland Park, the 37-year-old entrepreneur generates enough fruits and vegetables to keep her family fed for the better part of the year.

“We’re all capable of—and I don’t advocate dropping out of society, either—really supplementing some of our food,” Moreno says. “Imagine if you came home every day and you supplied the lettuce in your salad for dinner for your family. It saves a lot of money.”

After getting into gardening about 10 years ago to keep herself fit and make her yard more attractive, the diminutive, curly-haired powerhouse today maintains a 1,500-square-foot “kitchen” garden and two demonstration plots where tour groups and passersby can see what goes into at-home agriculture. During the growing season, Moreno tends vegetables in raised wooden beds organized by cuisine, such as Italian, Thai, and Chinese; she harvests apples, pears, plums, nectarines, and peaches from her mini orchard. A flock of chickens produces eggs year round while helping to keep soil tilled and fertilized (the latter job being shared by her four rabbits). To make fresh produce last into the winter, she also pickles cucumbers and jars plenty of tomato sauce and pesto.

With such an ambitious operation to her credit, it’s no wonder Moreno has in the past decade morphed from humble backyard cultivator into “The Garden Girl,” complete with a line of products sold nationally and a website (gardengirltv.com) that’s filled with how-to videos, all emphasizing sustainable living for city-dwellers. “Because we have these urban lifestyles, it’s so important to have some connection to nature,” Moreno says. “It’s also about being an integral part of your community, being healthy and exercising, and decreasing food miles.”

Another benefit: Home gardening can make for quality family time. For example, Moreno’s 10-year-old daughter, Alejandra, likes getting her hands dirty by starting seeds in little pots. “She’s totally involved in the gardening,” her mom says. “She helps with the animals, she helps plant—she’s like my machine!”

And for Moreno, at least, there’s one more noteworthy effect of her brand of self-reliance. “During the growing season especially, I don’t even know the people who work at the local supermarket anymore, and they don’t know me,” Moreno says, and then pauses. “Um, actually, the sushi guy does know me!”

–By Brittany Jasnoff


Moreno has set up raised beds across her property, which eliminate the chore of testing soil conditions. (photograph courtesy of patti moreno)

Tips From the Garden Girl

No Garden? No Problem. “There is a lot you can do with any space in front of a window that gets good sun,” Moreno says, such as grow lettuces and herbs, and even tomatoes. Have a terrace? Use galvanized bins to expand your crops to include flowers and peppers.

Sow Visual Appeal. Disguise chain-link fences with vining plants such as pumpkins, sugar baby watermelons, and cucumbers, and plant fruit trees to increase the value of your property. And don’t forget those humble window boxes: “They beautify the neighborhood and add that extra curb appeal.”

Raised Beds Rule. “It’s easier than testing your soil…and you don’t have to bend all the way down,” says Moreno. You can put one together yourself using precut lumber from the local home-improvement store.

Grow What You Love. It may seem obvious, but take inspiration from the recipes you make the most. In Moreno’s case, that means an entire bed devoted to the ingredients for Thai cabbage salad.