Tina James looks at vegetables and sees something more than dinner. She sees beautiful colors, the texture of a leaf, the shape of the plant.
"In a container here in my garden," she says, "I have rhubarb chard, which is a member of the beet family grown for its leaf. But it has the most incredible blood-red veins that in the fall get even more beautiful. And I also have lemon-scented marigolds, which you can use in a salad; a rosemary plant; and a lemon verbena that has a lemon scent that's wonderful in tea."
Too many gardeners limit themselves when they plant their gardens, she believes. "For some reason, people think you should keep your vegetables and flowers separate and, of course, that's not true at all. Diversity is the way of nature."
Diversity is also the way of Ms. James' new business, Gardening from the Heart, a garden consulting and design service.
After many years as a garden writer and teacher of gardening -- Ms. James is well-known locally as the host and creator of the series "Good Earth Gardening," which ran on Maryland Public Television -- she has decided to help people directly with garden problems. She meets with people to give site-specific advice and also does natural landscape design.
Her consulting work and designs emphasize organic gardening and edible landscaping, a type of landscape that incorporates food crops like herbs and fruits and vegetables into an overall attractive design.
"I encourage people who are going to do some planting -- especially because most people are very busy and have a small amount of space -- to consider planting something they could eat or that wildlife could eat in addition to just things that look lovely," she says.
She does consulting for a set fee. Before meeting with a client, she mails out an inventory for them to fill out. "The inventory helps people focus their garden dreams and also come down to earth a little bit. It asks them about the specifics of the gardens they have tried before and the garden they'd like to have. And then some of the basic realities of how much money and time they have to spend and how much sun they have."
Then she meets with them and together they go over the inventory and develop realistic solutions. She gives design ideas and suggestions for plant selection. She also gives them information on soil preparation and improvement, which she considers the key to a good garden. "If you take care of the soil, the soil will take care of the plants," she says.
"When you garden organically," she continues, "you reach this ,, wonderful threshold where all your work comes back and the soil is in such great shape that you have really healthy plants and few problems."
For people who want more than just consulting, she will design and plant entire garden environments. For those with larger acreage, she emphasizes permaculture, a self-maintaining natural landscaping.
Her landscapes include vegetables, herbs, flowering perennials and orchards that include native fruits, dwarf trees and naturally disease-resistant varieties.
"It's wonderful to be able to create your dreams and walk into them."
Ms. James, who was a writer and associate producer for MPT for 10 years, also works as a free-lance screenwriter. She also teaches gardening locally through nature centers and garden clubs.
Ms. James can be reached at 252-3333.