Imagine the heat of the summer sun shining down from a cloudless blue June sky. The freshly watered soil gives off its rich scent as the bees buzz from flower to flower. Surrounding you is Lucille’s Garden, the fresh and eager faces of new vegetables growing toward that bright sun with their roots sunk deep in soft, dark soil.

Food plants occupy a unique spot in our hearts, society, and culture. These plants nourish our bodies, feed our communities, and help us share our culture. When artfully arranged, they delight the eye and feed the soul. At Tyler, one of our goals is to do just that – create a beautiful garden space that will serve as a place for people to gather and learn from these special plants. We seek to make the art of vegetable growing accessible and engaging for everyone – regardless of their experience with plants.

Of course, the topic of vegetable gardening is vast and diverse, as diverse as the different ecosystems in which food is grown and as unique as the people who grow them. So each year, we choose a new facet to focus on, a topic to peel back like the layers of an onion.

This year the theme in Lucille’s Garden is Companion Planting. Just like people, plants grow better with their friends. A stroll through the garden this summer will help you discover which plants like one another’s company and how to plant thoughtfully and grow a healthy and abundant harvest.

We’re fortunate in Lucille’s Garden to have a steady companion who helps to interpret these plants and the year’s theme. Walking down the gravel and pine needle paths, you will see beautifully illustrated plant signs. These colorful images help you know what plants you are looking at, how they grow, and what foods they produce. These signs are the handiwork of artist Joan McClintock, one of our incredible volunteers.

“My images are like plants in the garden,” says Joan. “I want it to seem as if they grew there.”

Her images are done in soft colors with whimsical touches. They are such a loving and human interpretation of these plants that it’s hard to believe Joan doesn’t have a background in horticulture. Joan was a Professor of Dental Hygiene and a Clinic Coordinator at Montgomery County Community College. Then, she came into the world of plants at Longwood Gardens, where she worked as the Continuing Education Coordinator. Upon retirement, Joan joined our volunteer corps here at Tyler.

Joan has been drawing her entire life, and Tyler has (so far) been the most official application of her artistic talents. When we send Joan our crop list, she sits down with her iPad and begins to draw. “It’s always fun, and there’s no pressure to it!” she says.

We love her beautiful images here at Tyler for many reasons, but chief among them is that they are fun. Joan’s work takes a warm and human view of these vegetables, and she draws them with such humor, affection, and joy that they lend an inviting touch to our informational signs.

“I really like that it makes the vegetables much less intimidating…you can just enjoy the drawing, you can compare the image to the plant, you can engage in that garden on so many levels,” says Joan.

We agree. Getting started with a vegetable garden can be intimidating, and we hope that visitors to Lucille’s walk away feeling empowered to try something new. Joan approaches her artwork the same way. “You’re working on an iPad, so you can just hit undo…and life is kind of perfect!”

Gardening, too, is an experiment. We encourage visitors to Lucille’s to bring their notebooks and cameras. Write down something new you’d like to try at home and see if you can put together a recipe with the plants you see. Stop by our tasting stations to discover a new favorite food. Vegetable plants are adaptable, versatile, and always fun and engaging to grow.

So, does Joan have a favorite plant to draw? Of the 550 images she’s done for us so far, she has this to say: “I’m really good at potatoes!”

We agree. We are sincerely grateful to Joan for sharing her talents with us. Without companions like her, our garden would certainly not grow as well.