It was a perfectly steamy August morning as I sat in the Southold kitchen of Katie and Luke Wallace. While Katie and I began discussing all things garden-related, Luke poured me a cup of strong coffee and casually asked if we were ready for breakfast. Suddenly I am enamored by the plate that is somehow effortlessly placed in front of me: impeccably scrambled local eggs with freshly cut garden herbs, scallions, and chorizo accompanied by roasted homegrown cherry tomatoes and peppers with expertly sliced fruit. I am always charmed by the meals at the Wallace household.
Katie Schmidt Wallace is an account lead at a digital healthcare startup, an active member of the Southold school community and an avid gardener. Luke Wallace is a former New York City restaurant chef de cuisine and corporate chef who is now a private chef that makes small-batch provisions for local farms. He also makes delicious, preserved garden gems for our Yard Crop clients, a service we are proud to offer. Luke and Katie grew up on Long Island and after being Brooklynites for 12 years, purchased their home in Southold in 2014. In 2020, as part of their longtime family plan, they moved to the North Fork permanently to raise their two daughters.
Prior to 2020, neither Katie nor Luke had any gardening experience but with the pandemic occurring during their first year of living on the North Fork full-time, they finally had the time to build the vegetable garden they always dreamed of having. After vigorous research on Katie’s part, receiving advice from seasoned gardeners in their family, and scouring the internet, they started their first garden.
PHOTOS BY VICTORIA CARUSO
“I spend so much time inside on a computer screen for work, gardening has become a nice counterbalance. It is both challenging and rewarding, and as someone who doesn’t cook, it is gratifying to be able to contribute to the food that we consume for our family,” says Katie. Becoming dear friends with the Wallace family in 2020, I was immediately smitten by their garden story. They are truly a pair that grows together. Katie masters the research, planning, planting and maintenance of the garden. Her garden work begins in early January when she maps out the garden beds and then orders seeds, she begins planting in March and it continues through the summer months when she wakes up early before her workday begins to enjoy her solo gardening sessions.
Luke is the hands-on garden builder in the family. He designs and constructs all things related to the garden then masters the production element of the garden; cooking, canning, and preserving as much as possible. Luke tells me, “It’s been a little like patchwork, building the garden into our existing landscape.” For example, there is a healthy evergreen tree in their yard they decided not to take down so instead their raised garden beds are built around it. When they needed to repair an old fence, Luke built garden beds within the new fence so Katie could grow pumpkins alongside it and when they needed to support their back deck, he built more raised beds along the perimeter of it.
While growing up, Luke’s good friend’s dad was from Sicily and their entire backyard was a vegetable garden. That inspiration never left him, and he hopes to continue to add to their property here. Learning about the history of preserving food, wanting the best ingredients, and knowing where everything comes from are some of the main reasons Luke enjoys the garden.
“The garden offers the availability of things we can’t get out here regularly like Thai basil, lemongrass and unique tomato varieties,” says Luke. Cutting fresh herbs daily and preserving as much as they can on their own is the ultimate garden goal for the Wallaces. Luke has already pickled 15 quarts of cucumbers from the eight cucumber plants that Katie grows. “Everyone who stays at our house in the summer leaves with a jar of pickles,” adds Katie.
PHOTOS BY VICTORIA CARUSO
For the Wallace family, the garden also serves as a space for their family to make memories. Seed starting is a family event where they daydream about what they’ll enjoy in the coming months. Their favorite family garden activity involves knocking over pots of potato plants and digging through the dirt to unearth rooted treasures. Their eldest daughter has a palate for homegrown food akin to adults, likely from her exposure to a variety of garden flavors. Their younger daughter has become a pizza connoisseur. Luke and the girls have found a true talent in topping homemade pizzas in their pizza oven with garden veggies and herbs, now a family pastime. In the springtime, their daughters climb trellises to harvest snap peas, and, in the summer, they eat their weight in tomatoes. The Wallace family is the epitome of a family that grows homemade goodness together.
GARDEN GUSHING with the Wallaces
FAVORITE PART OF GARDENING:
K: I love starting seeds! It’s the first step towards summer. It never ceases to amaze me when a sprout pops up and turns into a seedling.
L: Watching the transformation, seeing the change as the crops get bigger and bigger. In the beginning, I would panic and have control issues over things not going well or crops dying off, but now I get excited about what’s going to grow next.
LEAST FAVORITE PART OF GARDENING:
K: Mosquitos! I am mosquito food, so I have a whole process when I go out to the garden. I layer up and spray myself with organic bug spray. Since we do not use pesticides, our garden is a bug haven.
L: Filling garden beds with dirt is my least favorite part!
FEELINGS THE GARDEN EVOKES:
K: The garden helps me to be in the moment. I feel like I am experiencing the moment through all my senses and am tuned into everything around me. With life and kids, I’m always planning things in my brain, but the garden helps me to slow down, release control, and pay attention.
L: The garden provides equanimity. I have a stronger sense of awareness being in a space that’s always changing. I’ve learned you must be part of it, not just move through it. It’s both calming and exciting! Figuring out what I’m going to cook with what I’m growing is always a fun challenge.
LESSONS FROM THE GARDEN:
K: Understanding the ecosystem that exists in our backyard, and that we are all guests here. We are learning how to be a part of it, work with it, and not against it. We always say the Jurassic Park quote: “Life will find a way!” We try not to overcontrol things and let nature run its course.
L: This year, we had a few tomato plants in the walkways of our garden that have volunteered on their own, we have learned to just let them grow because they want to be here.
Luke’s Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
- 1 doz cherry tomatoes
- 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, whole
- 4-6 sprigs whole sprigs of fresh hearty herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt