Interview with Nicholas Walker, Lifestyle Designer / Landscaper / Author about Growing Chili Peppers
Finally, we spoke with Lifestyle Designer/Landscaper/Author Nicholas Walker. Nicholas is a top designer for Kathy Ireland Worldwide (KIW) overseeing the J du J line – everything green for garden owners – a top seller for the company.
Nicholas, are you a chili pepper fan?
Yes, I am a fan of Chili Peppers. At kiWW we celebrate all cultures. Kathy developed eight innovative Style Guides tm. One of the most popular is La Vida Buena, so naturally we are huge chili pepper fans. I was born in Bogota Colombia and developed a spicy palette early on in life.
Which pepper is your favorite?
The Habanero pepper is my favorite and it’s certainly La Vida Buena… Muy Caliente!!!
Chili peppers originated in the Americas and are now grown around the world in more than 200 varieties. They are used as both food and as medicine. Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years and are thought to have been domesticated more than 6000 years ago. Peppers are commonly broken down into three groupings: bell peppers, sweet peppers, and my favorite, hot peppers.
One of the reasons I like peppers is because growing them is not difficult as long as you follow a few key rules. Chili peppers start off a bit slow, so it is helpful to start to grow your plants indoors anywhere from 8-12 weeks before transferring them outside. Keep the early soil and budding plants constantly moist, but do not over water. Keep them warm (80 -85 degrees is best) and in a sunlit place.
Once there is no worry of frost, you can plant your pepper plants to your garden or chosen spot. Choose a location with full sunlight for growing peppers… They LOVE the sun. Mix in some mushroom compost or other organic compost to make the soil fertile and moist.
Space the plants 14 – 16 inches apart with about 2 -3 feet between rows. The plants will eventually grow to nearly 3 feet high. For me, pepper plants add a spicy beauty to any garden. I love the look of the fruit ripening on the plants and the taste of the peppers.
Have you ever set up an outdoor winter garden for yourself or for any of your customers?
Actually in my early career, I was an actor in New York City and every chance I had I was in the outdoors doing something green. I chose a ground floor apartment because it had a concrete outdoor patio. I asked the landlord if I could transform it into a garden. He agreed with suspicion and curiosity. Over several months the concrete was removed and a patch of green sprouted out of the urban jungle. It was amazing to see transformation of a sterile environment of concrete to a fertile eco-system that attracted flora and fauna.
If so, were there any special considerations in doing so?
The main challenge was to transform dead soil into a life giving nutrient rich planting area. The main lesson of this particular garden was that it all began and ended with the soil. A well balanced soil gives and sustains life.
Have you ever set up a winter garden where it can be very cold, such as the US Midwest?
You can’t install a winter garden in the ground as it is frozen but you certainly can set up a wonderful garden in a greenhouse or indoors. I was fortunate to be on a television show called Home Matters where we demonstrated how to build a planter box simply and economically. This enables apartment dwellers and family cooks to have a garden and bring it indoors. Whether you want to grow chili peppers, tomatoes, culinary herbs or cutting flowers I encourage you to bring the outdoors in. It’s easy and fun.
Have you ever set up a garden with a greenhouse for year-round gardening?
Yes. Actually I was involved in setting up a greenhouse that was required to be full of orchids in different phases of bloom. The continuing challenge is to feed and care for the orchids so that there is at least several that are in some form of bloom.
What was your favorite project?
My favorite project is to be in service to my business partner and mentor Kathy Ireland and her mission statement of “…finding solutions for families, especially busy moms.” At kathy ireland Worldwide, my job is to bring the outdoors in. We launched kathy ireland J du J in 2001 at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. Kathy was very specific in her direction. The garden had to be water wise, fire wise, children wise, fun, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. Then she added that she wanted me to work with a budget that mom could afford to do at home. No easy task. It was a pleasure that by bringing Kathy’s vision to life; we were able to win the gold medal.
In your experience, are there any special considerations for working with greenhouses over the winter?
Yes. It is important to consider the weight of the snow on the glass. Please do not ignore this fact of nature. Be vigilant in removing the snow even thought it’s an excellent insulator. The maintenance program of the plumbing is paramount as broken water lines can be a disaster in the middle of winter. I also recommend installing a self closing spring on the main door. This will make the door close rapidly and consistently. The freezing cold air will burn the delicate new foliage, growth and/or bloom if the door is kept open too long.
Have you ever designed an indoor garden area for yourself or for a client?
The largest and most significant indoor garden was when Kathy and I launched kathy ireland J du J. It was in 2001 at The Cow Palace for the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.
How did that project turn out and what types of plants/vegetables does the user grow?
Kathy always reminds us to “Unleash your Personal Style” and the garden we designed needed to be solution based.
Our mission at kiWW is “…finding solutions for families, especially busy moms.” I had never designed a garden centered on the concept of being a solution. Kathy encouraged me to see design with a different paradigm. She said, “you know sustainability… why not focus the whole concept of the garden on the idea of sustainability? Don’t you think it would be a strong solution for the busy moms that we serve? We used four tons of recyclable glass as the ground cover; the frame of the garden was built with recut bamboo culms that were collected from different gardens. We used recycled copper pipes for the five working fountains. The plant palette was comprised of succulents and cacti. The reason they were chosen was that the succulents and cacti manifest stress during travel by becoming crisper in their coloring. They can withstand the trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco better than any other plant material and look great at the end of their travels. Many a snicker was heard as we were installing this garden because it was certainly different from all the other exhibits. We were thrilled and grateful to receive the gold medal. The biggest compliment was when a few children were viewing the garden; I overheard them saying that it was a “Dr. Zeus garden because of all the funny shapes and colors”.
If you were to give specific advice on starting/growing an indoor garden, what would it be?
Soil, soil and soil that is balanced in organic nutrients, peat moss, potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen and please don’t forget drainage and sunlight, which are just as important
SPECIFIC TO CHILI PEPPERS:
How might a gardening enthusiast gain the best yield from their pepper plants over the winter?
Please remember not to over water.
Should they focus on indoor growing?
If they have frost in the ground they should focus on growing chili peppers indoors in pots.
Perhaps invest in a greenhouse?
Greenhouses are great, but please remember you can always bring the outdoors in by having infusion sticks perfuming the inside of your home with the smell of cedar or have you comforter display branches of blooming magnolias, paint your walls a chili pepper red, or use hemp, grass, or bamboo wall paper.
Stick to spring and summer?
Yes… Most realistically grow them as Mother Nature intends them to grow in the spring and summer. Don’t forget that there are many beautiful flowers that are happy growing in the winter. I also recommend working with fresh cut flowers. It’s creative, easy and a lot of fun. Kathy shows us how to enjoy designing your own floral arrangements at www.fabulousflorals.com
If your desire is to enjoy Jalapenos, remember that they like dry conditions with sandy soil. Jalapenos are a staple of agriculture products from west Texas to New Mexico. Those regions get less than 12-inches of rain per year; low humidity, high temps, and has high phosphorous content sandy soils.
I have a friend who lives in the Northeast that starts seeds in the plastic seed starter trays that come pre-filled with potting soil from any garden supply. He has a west to southwest exposure in his guest room, and he leaves the seeds/seedlings in front of the window from mid-February until after the last frost in mid-spring. He waters them from below, keeping the soil moist but not wet until he thins the seedlings. Then he waters when they start to wilt. Being that the house has forced air heat, they wilt every 2-3 days until the heat goes off.
After the last frost, he plants them right in his back yard, slightly rotating the location in the garden from year to year. They get a south to southwest exposure with full sun all day. He adds no compost, nitrogen, phosphorous, etc, to the soil beforehand as their natural environment is desert sand and not exceptionally nutrient-rich.
After transplanting, please use MG Vegetable fertilizer every 2 weeks to help them grow large and leafy. Once they’re about to start to produce flowers, stop fertilizing. You should water the whole garden most evenings with a sprinkler for about 20-30 minutes (if it doesn’t rain). Late afternoon to early evening is the best time to water, and make sure to give a good drenching, like an afternoon thunderstorm would.
Most people say that the Northeast doesn’t have a long enough growing season for jalapenos to mature and turn red, but many of my colleagues are proving them wrong. I have a friend who was the first in the neighborhood to have peppers this season and is still getting more every day. He actually gave half of his seedlings to his neighbor who uses manure, compost, sweet peat, and a rototiller to till in all that stuff, and my friend is putting him to shame.
If it is possible to grow indoors or extend the growing season in a greenhouse, or whatever other method you recommend, I’d be interested in dates –i.e.: how much extra time are we adding to the growing season?
It is possible to fool Mother Nature by setting pots in a sunny area inside your house with the least amount of drafts possible. Good soil and proper drainage are important. Please use filtered water if you can. You could extend the growing season to three or four months depending on what you are planting.
Is it possible to transplant from the ground outside to a pot indoors?
Yes, it is absolutely possible to transplant from the ground to an indoor pot but it is important to be sure to dig out the entire rootball without disrupting its roots.
Is it possible to grow anything all year long?
Where ever you live, I encourage you to be inspired by nature and remember to always bring the outdoors in. Depending on what zone you live in. Plants and trees, even in their deciduous stage are alive and are growing.
How long would a plant survive before you’d have to start over?
Some plants like lavender have a cycle of 3-5 years. The native ceanothus which is drought tolerant but has a natural cycle of 8-12 years before it begins to decline. We have examples of olives in Mediterranean countries that are 200-500 years old and thriving.
Any suggestions on growing from seed vs. buying seedlings?
Buying seed and seedlings locally is a good and prudent practice. Please make sure that the seeds come from a certified supplier. Please enjoy a garden everyday, even if it is one you have brought to life in your home with your furnishings, accessories and home fragrances.
About Nicholas Walker
Nicholas Walker is an award winning landscape designer.
Lifestyle designer Kathy Ireland teamed with Nicholas to develop J du J abbreviated for Jardin du Jour Jardin del Dia Garden of the Day a new brand developed to help the everyday gardener bring style to their garden at realistic costs for today’s families, as wellas to bring the Outdoors In.
Nicholas was asked by The Oprah Winfrey Show to “make-over” a backyard family garden. The warm review from Oprah Winfrey and viewers has led to follow up requests.
He is the outdoor living host of HGTV’s Designing for the Sexes, which explores home renovation projects through the dynamics of gender differences.
Nicholas is a featured guest on numerous local Television shows, The Christopher Lowell Show, Home Matters, HGTV’s The Hollywood Gardener, and the popular Discovery Channel series Ground Rules. He is also part of The National Trust for Historic Preservation and HGTV’s Restore America A Salute to Preservation with Kathy, Sharon Stone, Bryant Gumbel and Al Roker to name a few.
He is a member of the Garden Writer’s Association of America and his outdoor living advice to families has appeared in Good Housekeeping Do It Yourself, Woman, and on the Internet at furniturefind.com and kathyireland.com. His work has been featured in magazines such as Metropolitan Home, Sunset Magazine, Garden Design, and LA Times Magazine.