Up on the Hill: Picturesque gardens feed a winery kitchen

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Photo: John Robinson Photo: John Robinson

Diane Burns’ journey has taken her to some pretty interesting places—but it’s a good bet that her current place of work, Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, is one of the most beautiful. Burns is the on-site horticulturist, and she tends neat garden beds that hug the perimeter of the tasting room and spill down the hill—all of it overlooking Pippin Hill’s layered green vista.

Burns has managed the gardens here for the last two years, a role that puts her in close collaboration with Pippin Hill’s chef, Ian Rynecki. “It’s a joint effort,” she says, for the two of them to imagine how the vegetables and herbs she grows can become part of the seasonal menus he creates. It’s not just a matter of using greens in a salad, though Rynecki certainly does; he’s also dreaming up ways to incorporate more unusual ingredients, like the edible purple blossoms from Burns’ chives that garnish a farro dish in spring.

Before Burns came to Pippin Hill, she had a garden business of her own for 15 years, designing and planting ornamental gardens for private clients. Her early career, though, was completely unrelated. Right out of college, she took a job in D.C. with the U.S. Department of State, helping to coordinate security for American embassies overseas. The work took her to a number of locations abroad, including Morocco.

But by the time her two children were born, she and her husband were ready for a change. “I always knew that [career] wasn’t me,” she says. Having moved to Lake Monticello, Burns focused on raising her kids and figuring out what was next, and a tree ID class at PVCC led her to the answer: horticulture.

“I’ve always loved the outdoors,” she says, crediting PVCC professor and horticulturist Ian Robertson with inspiring her to pursue gardening. She worked as a garden guide at Monticello for a time, where she gained “a good appreciation for Jefferson’s contributions to American gardening.”

Now, at Pippin Hill, she’s shifted from ornamental gardening to growing food, something that Jefferson certainly would appreciate.

“It’s a huge switch,” she says. “I’ve always had a home vegetable garden as an adult, but this has pushed me beyond my comfort zone.”

Closest to where winery guests sit to dine and sip, garden beds hold African blue basil, edible marigolds for garnishes and bountiful garlic. As one follows the paths further afield —and visitors often do, many times with Burns accompanying them on an impromptu “walk-around”—the crops change to herbs, greens, espaliered Kieffer pears, figs, edible calendula flowers, potatoes and many others. Uphill grows a mini apple orchard, and downhill lives a flock of laying hens in a picture-perfect coop.

Not only is all of this food destined for Pippin Hill’s kitchen—this spring, for example, Rynecki has used red Russian kale, mustard greens, turnips, radishes, pea shoots and more—but the gardens must contribute to the Pippin Hill visuals, which are nothing to sneeze at.

The work promises “constants of learning,” she says. “It’s rewarding to see everything I do being appreciated.”

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