Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575
Fresh food is best for Gardner
Her home, grounds are open for Historic Garden Week tours
Marty Gardner enjoys spending time in her garden, raising all sorts of fruits, vegetables and herbs, and tending flowers. When she is indoors, she likes to use her garden fare in everyday meals. Gardner lives in The Carriage House at 21 Scuffle Hill in Martinsville. Her home, along with several others, will be open today for the the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week tour. The tour will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A full ticket (to all sites) costs $15; entrance to a single site costs $8. Tickets for children ages 6-12 are half price, and they are free for children 5 and younger. Tickets may be purchased at any site. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
Marty Gardner is what her name suggests: a gardener. She also lets her love of plants influence the types of food she prepares for her family.
Cooking “kind of goes with gardening,” she said. Given that Gardner’s garden includes everything from lettuce and onions to hot peppers and asparagus, there is never a shortage of vegetables to be used in meals.
Her gardens, and her home on Scuffle Hill, will be open for public visits today during the annual Historic Garden Week tours.
Gardner often goes to her garden when she’s making pasta, a family favorite.
“You can put anything in pasta” and make a filling meal, she said. She usually tops her pasta with homemade pesto — made using her own basil — or with marinara made with fresh tomatoes.
Gardner, 68, cooks about once a week for her family, which includes her sons, Russel, Graham and Martin, and nine grandchildren.
“They’ll eat everything,” so Gardner can take creative liberty with the meals, she said. Her family enjoys any type of pasta, as well as salads and flank steak.
Although she is comfortable there now, Gardner wasn’t always at home in the kitchen.
“I didn’t know how to cook until I got married,” she said, amused. She recalled that her husband, the late Ben Gardner, had to show her “how to boil water.”
She doesn’t recall the first food she learned to make but said it probably was a “hamburger or something.”
Gardner did manage to teach her sons to cook, although that was not without its own set of challenges.
“My whole ceiling had noodles hanging from it for awhile,” she said, because her boys tested the pasta’s doneness by throwing pieces against the ceiling. Eventually, they all could cook without the wayward noodles, and before they left home, each knew how to cook a meal, iron a shirt and sew on a button.
Gardner’s grandchildren have taken an interest in cooking, she said, so whenever she has them at her home, she lets them experiment. Recently, four of them made Mongolian beef.
“They made a huge mess, but they made it (the beef)!” she said. “They did a super job.”
When her daughters-in-law are over, “I put the food out, and they get very creative,” said Gardner, who takes a hands-off approach when others want to cook.
Gardner is originally from Pennsylvania. After meeting her husband while he was in the Army for five years, they moved to this area, where he and his brother, Philip Gardner, began the law firm Gardner, Gardner, Barrow & Sharpe (now Gardner, Barrow, Sharpe & Reynolds).
In Pennsylvania, Marty Gardner said, huge farmers markets were run by Amish and Mennonite residents. The markets sold almost everything one could imagine, including vegetables, meat and homemade cakes and breads, she said.
While her gardens are full of vegetables, herbs and fruits, Gardner still collects even more plants and seeds when she gets the chance. Friends give her some of their cuttings or seeds, with one offering her heirloom Thomas Jefferson seeds. Heirloom vegetables are those grown from seeds handed down through generations, instead of modified in a lab.
When Gardner must buy any type of seed or plant, she keeps to local individuals, shops and schools.
“I just seem to have spent my life procuring food,” she said while gazing upon her plethora of plants.
She even lives in a house with its own food association. Her home, the Carriage House at 21 Scuffle Hill, once was home to Stewart Miller, who was known for his cheese straws. The cheese straws are sold by the Carriage House Cheese Straw Company (not affiliated with Gardner).
The straws and Miller’s cookbook will be for sale today at Piedmont Arts.
Other houses on today’s garden tour, called “A Stroll in Historic Uptown,” include The Ketchie House at 331 E. Church St. and The Townes House at 327 E. Church St.
Christ Episcopal Church at 321 E. Church St. also will be open on the tour, which is conducted by the Garden Study Club and Martinsville Garden Club.
The tour will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A full ticket (to all sites) costs $15; entrance to a single site costs $8. Tickets for children aged 6-12 are half price, and they are free for children 5 and younger. Tickets may be purchased at any site.
Tour visitors also may visit the former Henry County courthouse uptown, where landscape renovations are being done as a project of the Garden Club of Virginia. Proceeds from the tour are used for statewide landscape renovation projects, with the courthouse being the state club’s latest.