Backyard has a colorful transformation

Ruth Jolley likes to call it her "little oasis."

At the base of a hillside terraced with grapevines behind her Corona del Mar house, a rainbow of leafy greens basked in the sun one morning last week.

Chard and peppery arugula sprouted from one 4-foot by 8-foot raised garden bed, while a kale selection that would make even the hippest foodie's head spin grew in another.

Branches of a squat Satsuma orange tree drooped with fruit. A few yards away, snap pea tendrils crawled up a small trellis and bursts of magenta peeked out from beneath French radish leaves.

A couple years ago, Jolley said the hill was covered in ice plant, indistinguishable from the ones sloping from her neighbors' yards into Buck Gully.

But Jolley and her husband, Mark Blancarte, decided they could do more with the space.

"We started remodeling the entire house," she said, and decided to rip out the ground cover. "We uncovered a gold mine back here."

As frequent travelers who like to eat well — and healthily — a vegetable garden seemed like a natural fit.

That's when they enlisted the help of Mike Saraylian and his company, Harvest to Home.

Harvest to Home, which the Laguna Beach native started in 2009, plants and helps maintains organic home gardens, as well as veggie and herb gardens for several restaurants.

Saraylian, 32, said he got into the organic edible gardening business less out of a desire to revamp the local farming scene than a passion for cooking, and having the tastiest ingredients available.

He didn't know much about gardening at first.

"If you told me broccoli grows on a tree, I'd have been like, really?" Saraylian joked.

Soon though, the company started to get the hang of things. Saraylian moved the business from his house on the Balboa Peninsula to a 4,000-square-foot facility in Huntington Beach, where they raise a seasonal menu of produce from seeds.

He said Harvest to Home has about 300 clients around Orange and Los Angeles counties.

The company offers a range of services, from planting new crops seasonally in large gardens, to maintaining 15-inch by 30-inch hydroponic vegetable or herb boxes.

In the case of Jolley's yard — by far the biggest backyard garden Harvest to Home maintains, Saraylian said — there was plenty of room to work with.

Harvest to Home helped add the raised beds, and filled them with a specially formulated soil that's airier and fluffier than California's hard-packed clay.

When summer rolled around, the produce from the garden was almost overwhelming, Jolley said.

Even after distributing as many tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplants to neighbors as they could handle, they still had more.

So the couple got in touch with Tender Greens, the high-end salad mini-chain that recently opened its newest outpost at the Irvine Spectrum.

Jolley estimated that during the summer, she and Blancarte hauled about 50 pounds to Tender Greens per week.

The restaurant's co-founder, Erik Oberholtzer, said they were happy to transform the produce into lasagna and other dishes and to donate the food to Laguna Beach's Friendship Shelter.

"Our view is primarily to do what we can to use food as a change agent," he said.

Dawn Price, the shelter's executive director, said that access to healthy food and nutrition is "really critical to people in recovery," and it's a need that can sometimes be overlooked.

While he said Tender Greens' arrangement with Jolley and Blancarte wasn't part of any larger program, Oberholtzer said he'd be open to working with other home gardeners in the future.

"If people have more than what they can eat or barter, I think it's great to do something with it," he said.

And what if you don't have much of a yard but dream of plucking your own basil for pasta sauce, or wish your salads were just a bit more flavorful?

Saraylian said time and space are no excuse.

His advice? "Get some tomatoes, throw them in the ground, roll the dice."

For Jolley, it's worked out better than expected.

"We eat kale every single day," she said proudly.

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