Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 28th
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Green Things

Renee’s garden keeps on growing

greenthingsRenee, Renee, how does your garden grow? With Asian greens and seedlings, and pretty flowers all in a row. OK, so that’s a spin-off of an old nursery rhyme, but somehow it seems fitting for a local woman who’s the master of her own garden—Renee Shepard.

Up in the colorful hills of Felton you can find Shepard wandering amongst fragrant flora and green veggies in her garden. She may be sampling the latest that has sprouted up in her dirt beds, picking out dinner, or analyzing what she’ll be packaging in an upcoming assortment of her famous seeds. Mostly, though, you’ll find a woman whom some are calling a pioneer in the gardening world, specifically in the case of Asian greens like baby bok choy or pat soi, a flat rosette of dark green leaves.

Recently Shepard, who owns the wholesale business Renee’s Garden, up in Felton, was featured in an article in the Sunset Western Garden Book. The topic: Her compelling knowledge about those Asian greens.

But that’s not all the gardening maven is good at. Since holding down her own business in 1997, this green thumb has been churning out cookbooks, and she has written scads of articles for well-known gardening magazines.

The long-time local has earned a steadfast reputation as the go-to girl for supplying both education and seeds to home gardeners. Some of her favorites to plant these days in the Asian greens niche include the aforementioned baby bok choy, pat soi and mizuna (a mild green that looks like serrated arugula but is much sweeter). All these veggies are prime choices to plant in Santa Cruz County-based gardens. “The nice thing about the Santa Cruz area is that you can plant them in the spring and plant another one in the fall,” Shepard says. “Plant the seeds and eat the young plants, and leave the remaining ones to grow bigger.”

Walk out to your garden and pluck any of these fast growing, low-maintenance Asian greens. Say you choose the baby bok choy. Now apply a Shepard recipe: Sautee the veggie with some garlic, ginger and hot chilis, and voila—you have a simple stirfry that’s flush with exquisite taste. Or maybe recreate a salad that this professional gardener recently dined on. While this recipe doesn’t use Asian greens, it’s still lean and green: Pluck some Italian escarole (salad greens) from your garden, throw in some tangerine sections and toasted nuts, and serve up a side dish. Just don’t forget to water those seeds outside.

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