Gratifying gardens in Vail Valley |

Gratifying gardens in Vail Valley

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyChef Charles Hays from Vin 48 picks yellow wax beans from his garden Friday in Eagle-Vail to use in a stir-fry special at the restaurant that night.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –Even though snow dusted the ground in Colorado’s Vail Valley for the first time in months this week, local gardeners are still harvesting the last of their precious vegetables. To prolong the bounty, they just might have to tuck the nutritious vessels in come nightfall.

Eagle-Vail resident Charles Hays, also the chef/owner of Avon’s Vin 48, had to cover the vegetables on Sunday night, he said.

“We still have lots of veggies that are still growing. We had to cover them last night, and tonight probably too, but we will have more to harvest over the next four weeks.”

Hays and his wife Keri started growing vegetables in the backyard of their Eagle-Vail home last year.

“Every day is great when we walk to the garden and pick veggies,” Hays said. “We juice them; we make baby food; we put them on sandwiches, salads and stir fry. We call up friends to come over and pick their own, and take them to Vin 48 every day for the freshest ingredients, home grown.”

Daniel Joly, the owner and executive chef at Mirabelle at the base of Beaver Creek, picked wild watercress this spring from the stream that runs behind the restaurant. He made a mousse from the tender shoots and tucked it into homemade raviolis. During dinner service at the restaurant, it’s not unheard of to see one of the chefs duck out the back door and pick fresh herbs – mint, sage, oregano or chives – from the small, rectangle garden plot that’s just 15 feet from the kitchen.

Even locals who don’t have time for a full-fledged garden often times still grow fresh herbs.

“I grow herbs every summer – basil, thyme, sage, Italian parsley, rosemary and mint,” said Dan Trush of Avon Bakery and Deli. “I don’t have a lot of time for a real garden, but I always do fresh herbs.”

This season Trush also tried growing tomatoes and zuchini, which was made difficult by the cold weather this past spring, he said.

“The cold spring really slowed the growth down early,” he said. “Arugula does really well here but I didn’t grow any this year. I also grow catnip for our three cats – they love fresh catnip and it’s legal.”

We asked Hays and Joly about their experiences gardening this year.

Vail Daily: What have you been picking most recently?

Charles Hays: Snap peas, Alaska peas, Wax Beans, Scarlet runner beans, squash blossoms (zucchini and a variety of squash very soon), romaine lettuce, arugula, spinach, swiss chard, mixed greens, beets, red onions, white onions, green onions, garlic, bok choy, fennel .

VD: How long have you been “growing your own”?

CH: Last year was our first year with veggies. Keri said ‘We’ll start with flowers, if we succeed we’ll grow more.’ And grow more we did. There is a saying: “Bloom where you are planted” and here we are. We also have been growing flowers for display in vases at Vin 48 from our garden … all native flowers. Everything we’ve grown is totally organic, starting from organic compost from the Wildflower Farm. We use only using compost and water.

VD: What’s one thing that doesn’t grow here but you wish that you could?

CH: I’d love to be able to grow avocados.

VD: What are you best at growing?

CH: Lettuce is the easiest to grow. Squash thrive really well.

VD: What’s been the hardest thing to grow?

CH: This year the eggplant and okra struggled.

VD: Do you use gloves or bare hand it?

CH: Both – gloves for the hard work, bare to harvest.

VD: Who helps you in the garden?

CH: It has really been a community effort … They say it takes a community to raise a child, well it’s the same with a garden. My wife Keri is the inspiration, planner and laborer behind all the work. Her friend Jill Koellhoffer (from Minturn) helped lay stone and dig the earth. Our friend Bill Manson (from Edwards) helped install the watering system. The staff at Vin 48 came over for a planting party in June to help plant all the seeds.

VD: What’s your favorite dish that you’ve made using primarily ingredients from your own garden?

CH: Squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and tempora fried.

VD: Any interesting stories you can tell me regarding your adventures in gardening?

CH: Just a few weeks ago we picked a variety of peas for Vin 48. My daughter and I spent the morning in the garden picking veggies. She loves to pick, open and eat the peas raw … We put them in her dump truck and a few moments later I asked her where the peas were. She said ‘In the truck.’ We looked around the garden and realized that our peas had disappeared and later found that our black lab, Onxy, ate all of the peas! Onxy slept all day with a nice full belly and a smile on her face.


Daniel Joly, chef de cuisine and owner of Mirabelle.

Vail Daily: What have you grown in your garden this year?

Daniel Joly: Radishes, parsley, basil, cilantro, sage, mint, oregano, thyme, rosemary chives, red beets, baby lettuce.

VD: How long have you had your own garden at the restaurant?

DJ: Since 2001.

VD: What’s one thing that doesn’t grow here but you wish that you could?

DJ: Strawberries, bell peppers.

VD: What are you best at growing?

DJ: Fresh mint, chives, sage and oregano.

VD: What’s been the hardest thing to grow?

DJ: Tomatoes, red pepper, jalapenos, salad lettuce and squash. One more month of summer would be great for my garden!

VD: What’s your favorite dish that you’ve made using primarily ingredients from your own garden?

DJ: Using Mirabelle creek watercress we made a ravioli of fresh watercress mousse and it has been delicious. There is no substitute for freshness.

VD: Any interesting stories you can tell me regarding your adventures in gardening?

DJ: Colorado gardening has some unique challenges, what with our altitude and short (but beautiful) summers. Despite the elk that think (the garden) is a free, all-you-can-eat buffet and the bear drinking from the creek and stepping all over it for fun, the garden is a lot of fun and its nice to be able to grow fresh, organic ingredients to use on our menu. It is all worth it – that is why we do it every year.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

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