Visit a Family Garden

Marcia Eames-Sheavly has gardened her whole life. But a recent move had her starting with a clean slate. "Our garden is just a year old now, but it shows what you can do in a year if you set your mind to it," she points out. Marcia's gardening goals? Improve the soil. Make the garden beautiful as well as productive. And, most importantly, create a fun place for her whole family.

About the Gardener

Marcia Eames-Sheavly is a Senior Extension Associate in the Department of Horticulture, where she coordinates youth gardening programs statewide. She is a true believer that the process of gardening is as important as the product.

"It's great to grow healthy food and beautiful flowers," she says. "But gardening can also improve our lives and the lives of our kids and our communities."

Marcia collaborates with faculty on campus and Cornell Cooperative Extension staff around the state to find ways to use horticulture as an avenue for human, social, and community development. One of her latest projects has been to help bring the Junior Master Gardener Program developed at Texas A&M University to New York.

In addition to being a great gardener and an avid painter, she is the author of award-winning publications to help youth leaders and teachers start garden programs and integrate horticulture into their curriculums. Her publications include The Appealing Apple and The Three Sisters: Exploring an Iroquois Garden.


"When we moved in, the yard was just a big, green bowling alley: bare except for grass all the way from the house to the rear fence," recalls Marcia. She located the vegetable garden at the back of the lot because it is the only spot that receives the minimum 6 hours of direct sunlight a day most vegetables need.
"Gardening starts with the soil," says Marcia. She is fortunate to garden with one of the most productive soil types in New York: the fertile, well-drained Honeoye loam. She carefully prepared the soil before planting and continues to make every effort to keep it healthy and productive. Soil-improving practices are even more important if you are starting with poor soil.
The herb and flower bed in the center of the garden provides a visual focus. It features a towering Nicotiana sylvestris (candlestick flowering tobacco), birdbath and chair.
Flowers and food crops mingle in Marcia’s beds, like these marigolds and broccoli plants. "Mixing them is as much for aesthetics as anything else," she says. In some combinations, the hodge-podge of sights and scents may confuse and deter insect pests looking for food crops.
Marcia designed the garden with wide planting beds separated by permanent mulched paths. This keeps foot traffic from compacting the soil where the plants grow. "We never walk on our beds," she says.
The paths provide plenty of room to maneuver a wheel barrow around the garden. "Some of the best advice I've ever gotten about garden design was to be sure you give yourself enough elbow room," suggests Marcia.
To make the most of space in the planting beds, Marcia often plants "relay crops." For example, scallion seedlings are up and growing and will take over space left when Marcia harvests the nearby carrots.
Similarly, Marcia will harvest these leeks before they face serious competition from the nearby peppers.
Here, lettuce benefits from a little shade from tomatoes as hot weather approaches. By the time tomatoes really take off, Marcia will have harvested the lettuce.


The summer before starting the garden, Marcia killed the sod and sowed a cover crop of buckwheat. She keeps a jar of buckwheat handy and sprinkles seed wherever she has a bare spot in the garden from harvesting an early-season crop, such as lettuce.
The buckwheat germinates quickly in the warm soil and helps smother weeds.
As the buckwheat (behind the lettuce) matures, its roots help improve the structure of the soil, benefiting the crops that follow. Marcia uses shears to trim off the flowers so that the buckwheat doesn’t reseed. When she wants to replant the area occupied by the buckwheat, she simply turns it under with a shovel.
Marcia mulches some crops (here, red potatoes mulched with straw) to help conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. The mulch also improves the soil when it breaks down.
Marcia adds weeds, kitchen wastes and plant residues to her simple compost pile. This way, she returns nutrients and organic matter to her garden soil. She turns the pile occasionally, and waters it during dry spells.
Taking good care of the soil improves its tilth, making it easier to work and easier to control weeds. Here, Marcia uses one of her favorite tools, a stirrup hoe, to take out weeds.

Family Involvement

Marcia and Scott, her husband, constructed a pergola adjacent to the garden to help draw family members and visitors closer to the plantings.
Morning glories climb these surrealistic window frames (with the glass removed) that serve as "walls" for the pergola. But openings still permit a view of the garden from the benches and chairs inside.
A fire pit inside the pergola makes a great place to roast marshmallows and tell stories.
"Bean teepees" combine kids’ play and food production. Poles and brush form the framework that these young pole beans begin to climb.
By midsummer, the beans completely cover the framework, providing a cool, private spot where the kids can hide.
To get her kids involved with the garden, Marcia makes sure to plant plenty of crops that they can snack on right in the garden. In addition to these sugar snap peas, other favorites include strawberries, blueberries, carrots and beans. Her kids even like to nibble on herbs such as parsley, dill, chives, and basil.
Growing unusual varieties, such as these red-fleshed potatoes, carries the kids' enthusiasm for the garden back to the kitchen. "They've even harvested poppy seeds to make bread. You never know what’s going to grab them," says Marcia.