Charleston Profile: Growing Up
Mike Kimball tends an innovative urban garden—and shares the fruits of his labor
Twelve-foot-tall cucumber plants, five-pound kohlrabi, sweet potato vines that miraculously deliver a second crop: this is the stuff of Mike Kimball’s garden. And it isn’t springing from rich John’s Island farmland. No, this elevated, vertical green space grows right where you’d least expect it—behind Tile and Stone Design Studio off the peninsula’s industrial Morrison Drive, lapped by the marsh and practically under the Ravenel Bridge.
Kimball jokingly refers to the garden as his business’ “produce department,” because he loads up homeowner, designer, builder, and architect clients with broccoli, kale, tomatoes, and more. “People will say, ‘I’m saving my bathroom for next summer when the cantaloupes are ready,’” laughs the gardener.
And while folks have suggested he put a farm stand out front, “as soon as I sold something, it would become work,” Kimball says. “This is pure fun.” So customers, employees, and even nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity benefit from his generous green thumb. Anything that doesn’t get eaten is canned in his summer kitchen, which is outfitted with a kegerator, granite counters, and a stereo system.
So what’s his secret? Vertical gardening, for one thing. “Training the plants to grow up improves air flow, which is important to preventing disease,” explains Kimball. “And it saves a ton of space.”
PLANT A PATCH
It’s not too late to start your own garden this fall—get going with tips from Mike
Onions, spinach, radishes, and more can still be planted in October. Find a planting and harvesting chart at clemson.edu/extension.
Make Your Beds
Mike used old railroad ties to build raised beds—which improve drainage—and filled them with rich virgin topsoil.
Weeds Cover your garden with coastal hay (available at Cordray’s); tilled in at the end of the season, it enriches the soil. In summer, Mike also lays out heavy-gauge horticultural fabric before planting his seedlings.
Use cages to grow plants up instead of out. Mike makes his by buying a four-foot-tall roll of hog wire that he cuts into sheets about 66 inches wide. Shape into a circle, then secure by using pliers to twist the loose wire ends around the grids from top to bottom.
Photographs Provided by Tile & Stone Design Studio