Last week you may have read about Brad Tucker and Liz Ragone’s new venture, Radio Farm. I was so excited when I visited, I wanted to do a separate “Gardens of Love” just on Liz’s gardens. Yes, Brad cleared the land and put the posts in for the fencing, he helped put in the irrigation system, which he had recently tweaked, but it is without question Liz’s garden.
There is one peony outside the Butterfly Waystation that was saved from Susie Middleton, otherwise both flower and herb gardens are Liz’s domain. Liz grew up, along with her twin sister and an older brother, in Cataumet on Cape Cod.
“Brad can do anything,” Liz tells me. “He built that stone wall,” which now is around a parking area for two cars; there is gravel versus the mud that was there. I comment that they both can do anything, and ask if she got this attitude from anyone particular in her family. Liz said, “Yeah, my dad can do anything. He’s a contractor. He’s just the most even-keeled, never gets mad about anything. The whole world can be burning around him, and he keeps trucking on. He’s just so inspiring. He always paid me to do things, and always believed in me.” Clearly that held true for both sisters, because, Liz says, “My sister has the identical life to me, except they’re farming with a side of woodworking, and we’re woodworking with a side of farming.”
Liz did not grow up farming or gardening, but says, “I was always artistic, and went to school for fashion design in San Francisco.” Heading into the Butterfly Waystation flower garden closer to the house, Liz has a purse crossed over one shoulder that holds tools, and is wearing a skirt from Free People that has buttons on one side from her thigh to her waist. She tells me, “I bought three of them. It’s my uniform, I wear them every day.” She will make a pattern to modify so she can have her tools as well, and make her own skirts on her industrial sewing machine. Getting back to gardens and childhood, Liz says she mostly lived near farms, and that she and her sister worked at a local tomato stand. Her mother was a nurse who regularly commuted to Children’s Hospital in Boston, while her dad too worked long hours, so there wasn’t time for gardening at home. She continues, “I had houseplants when I lived in San Francisco. When I moved here, I bought one of those everlasting bouquets from Morning Glory [Farm], they’re hanging from the ceiling, and you have to ask somebody to get a ladder and pull one down for you. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I remember buying one in maybe October, and then I decorated my Christmas tree with it. I put all the stems in the tree so it looked like dried flowers coming out of the branches. Some of those flowers ended up in my serving boards.”
When we get to the asters, Liz says, “I’ve been waiting for these to bloom for so long.” I redirect us back to when she started gardening, and Liz replied, “My first garden was six raised beds at the last place we lived in Edgartown. It was COVID, and a rental.” Back to the serving boards, something she was not making. Liz says, “I’m all over Pinterest and always doing projects, so I ordered a kit of epoxy. It was $20, it was really bad epoxy. [Brad] and I have ordered every kind of epoxy, and spent a lot of money on mistakes. I totally messed it up, and ended up making my own silicone mold because I wanted to make a paperweight with the flowers. I put the dried flowers I wanted to save in the mold, added that epoxy, and it was a total fail. I can’t even remember what I did wrong. That was that, and a few months later I met Brad and he was living in a barn, and we decided to fix it up, collecting old wood. I told him I had played around with some epoxy, and he said, “I want to do that too.” A month later we ended up getting a shop. We didn’t have any customers, and had no idea what we were going to do, near Vineyard Decorators. It was small and we had very few tools, but then our friend Abe called us because he was opening a gallery in Chilmark and said, ‘Make stuff for us.’ That gave us the incentive to start.” I realized that the gallery, which moved into the old bank space, was where I had originally seen their work, and I recognized it from the Ag Fair.
Liz likes using dried flowers in her work, so she started getting her flowers from her sister, the Cape Cod farm where she once worked, Morning Glory, and then she and Brad moved to what they now call Radio Farm. Liz knew she had to grow her own flowers: “It closes the loop and makes it so much more special, [despite] costing a lot more money. It just feels special.” Liz continues, “To plant a seed … we’re planning to get a mill here too. So we can mill wood here and grow flowers.”
The Butterfly Waystation garden was built around an existing sage bush that runs along one of the end fences. They brought all the dirt after clearing the land. Liz says, “The plan is to have all perennial herbs on one side, but for now I ended up growing a ton of tulsi. Here I just grew fillers, feathertop grass, and here’s my cress that failed. I planted it when it was mid-drought. This was looking great, but now it’s not; this was my first time growing flowers. I’ve learned so much.” Besides “certain podcasts [Liz] listens to religiously, like Jennie Love’s No-Till Flowers,” her sister is her “24-hour-a-day garden consultant.” Liz explains, “Everything out here is mostly being grown to dry, but everything works in a bouquet too.” The two types of amaranth she grows come from floretflowers.com. Floret has a small family farm in Washington, and Liz says, “is the next big thing in flowers, with a show on the Discovery Channel,” books and more. As we walk through the beds, Liz points and says, “There are five types of celosia.” They are both an edible and ornamental member of the amaranth family. The scabiosa, part of the honeysuckle family, are also known as pincushion flowers, and are growing alongside the celosia.
Liz hopes to expand activities to include being a teaching farm. We walk by the fruit punch, a type of celosia. And then we get closer to a cockscomb celosia, Liz’s favorite. Liz grows a lot of the amaranth for wreaths. She loves having the Bouquet Bar, but her passion is using dried flowers in art, arrangements in stands, and assemblage wall pockets. She always hated when cut flowers die and then she has to throw them away, and has found grounding comfort working with her dried flowers. As we walk through the garden, Liz points out it is the sugar content in the leaves that make them more desirable to bugs for eating. She learned how to determine the sugar content and maintain healthier plants from the No-Till Flowers podcast. Last year’s cosmos were still looking good. Then we headed to the larger back garden.
Liz tells me, “The plan for next year is to set it up so I can do Sip ‘n Sips. I want to grow a bunch of lavender, get some jasmine going, so I can make some simple syrups, whether it’s tea or cocktails/mocktails. This year we just weren’t really there yet with the drought.” Part of the issue this year was the overhead drip system “wasn’t enough.” There are giant lime zinnias, going in place of the calendula next season. There’s a similar amaranth, and yet another variety that will replace the ones that are too tall, and will look better in arrangements. Liz says, “Strawflower will fill in some of the spaces.” They look forward to hosting some farm-to-table dinners in the winter. Liz is “growing shishitos for eating, and then there’s habaneros and jalapeños, bolted cilantro, some parsley,” all ingredients she’ll be using in her hot sauce for sale, besides pickled beets and chimichurri. When we get to the end of the garden the white Pekin ducks are enjoying themselves; unfenced, they’re free to roam.
In the flower beds, Liz says, there are “seven different kinds of zinnias, three different kinds of cosmos, seven different kinds of sunflowers, and [she’s] filling in some amaranth on the ends.” I asked about how the size of the garden was determined, and Liz says, “Down here we tilled with a tractor, though we want to work towards being ‘no-till.’”
The work not only grounds Liz, but making mistakes is the only way to learn, and she’s ready to try, whether it’s new varieties that better suit her artistic needs, or better methods of implementation. Liz is a can-do woman with a deep passion for sharing what she loves. Be sure to drop by Radio Farm and see for yourself.