Green Corn Project: Lady Bird Lake

By Suzanne Hurley

The next time you’re running, walking or biking around Lady Bird Lake, slow down and take a look at what’s happening on the northern shore, just west of the Pfluger pedestrian bridge.

See that lantana, salvia, lavender and rosemary? The yellow pear tomatoes, ichiban eggplants and jalapeño peppers? How about the feathery fronds of the bronze fennel, the curly leaves of the purple basil, the variegated oregano or, if nature has cooperated, the Aztec corn? What you’re looking at is the newly installed “vegetable-bed-on-the-lake,” and the riches of a true Austin collaboration.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of “feeding Austin, one garden at a time” Green Corn Project (GCP) sought to create an edible tribute to our city and supporters. Luckily GCP’s plan fit quite nicely with the goals of the Town Lake Trail Foundation (TLTF), an organization that auctions-off garden beds as a fundraiser to pay for other improvement efforts on the hike-and-bike trail.

“The adoption program enables people who love the trail to beautify some of the areas that need attention,” explains Sara Moore, garden coordinator at TLTF. “It gives recipients a chance to take ownership of a particular spot, and not only clean it up, but design and nurture it.” 

Moore put GCP in touch with local nursery Big Red Sun, which was interested in donating supplies and design services. Nursery manager and landscape designer Sarah Yant enthusiastically embraced GCP’s goals, and designed a custom garden using vegetable and herb varietals that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but well suited to Austin’s climate. “I like integrating vegetables and ornamental plants together in a landscape…think potager gardens,” says Yant. “Plants are healthier, with less disease and insects, when they’re intermixed.”

On the first Saturday of spring, four volunteers from GCP installed the bed, double-digging it as they do for all of GCP’s gardens. Double-digging is a labor-intensive process that loosens and aerates the soil, allowing plants to establish deeper roots. With deeper roots, the vegetables need less water than plants in conventionally dug beds. Once or twice a week, GCP volunteers tend the garden, haul water out of the Colorado River to irrigate the bed, and chat with curious passersby about organic gardening techniques. Some people stop to ask questions; others don’t break stride but yell a “thank you” as they run by.  No, thank YOU.

GCP planted this bed in gratitude to the Austinites who have supported the organization for the past 10 years. So if a cherry tomato is just what you need to make it through that 10-mile run, please pop one in your mouth. Or if the thought of a post-ride  baba ghanoush is the sole inspiration to pedal another few feet, then, by all means, take an eggplant home with you. Thanks, Austin. Have a vegetable on us!