Growing vegetables and perennials together creates a diverse, beautiful, edible garden with the added bonus of confusing pests. If growing space is limited or your soil is not good, have a look at these ideas for using raised beds. That was all I needed for my front yard veggie garden in a little city garden.
Growing Veggies with Decorative Plants
If there were gossip tabloids for gardens, this headline would read
PERENNIALS AND VEGGIES CAUGHT IN BED TOGETHER
… and they’re both very happy, thank you very much.
The Edible Landscape by Emily Tepe, is filled with creative and practical ways to include food crops throughout your garden. Whether you’ve got a balcony or larger plot, there are lots of ideas for designing your own edible landscape.
Nature Thrives On Diversity
I started growing fruits and vegetables within my flower borders by necessity. My little city garden was just 8 feet wide so I had no choice but to combine everything together. Over time I realized that this was actually ideal: veggies are eye-catching annuals and help fill in odd blank spots.
Much later I realized that I had prevented invasion by common garden pests: when your crops are distributed throughout the garden beds, many common troublemakers just can’t seem to find them. Win win. You can have your garden and eat it too.
These two excerpts from the book discuss reasons to use raised beds plus how to decide which plants to grow. While it’s not a step-by-step how-to book, you’ll see it thoughtfully walks you through some basic decisions, which is usually the biggest hurdle to getting started.
[photo by Paul Merkert]
- Raised beds can be the answer if you have hard clay soil, if you want to elevate plants to make them easier to access, or if you want to introduce exciting new levels to your landscape.
- Raised beds are often used in commercial horticulture to improve drainage and to allow earlier planting (the raised soil warms up faster in spring), and the same benefits can be found in the edible landscape.
- The special thing about raised beds is you can squeeze a lot into a little space because of that deep, rich soil volume. For those of you who, like me, tend to over-plant a bit, this is the perfect place to do it.
Commonly, raised beds are built of lumber in squares or rectangles, but you don’t have to stop at these shapes.
- Your yard may be yearning for curves made of stone or perhaps woven willow branches.
- Anything you can stack, pile, or otherwise make into a short wall can be used to form raised beds. (Avoid using treated wood or any other materials that could leach contaminants into the soil.)
- Fill your beds with good-quality soil, peat, and compost, and you’ve got a perfect spot for growing a beautiful and delicious garden.
- Keep in mind, since raised beds are so well-drained, they’ll also tend to dry out a little faster than the ground around them.
- A thick layer of mulch will help hold some of that moisture a bit longer, but you may have to water a little more often than you would if you planted directly in the ground.
So, you’ve got your raised beds ready, now what? What should you plant?
[photo by Paul Merkert]
Exploring Plant Options
It can feel a little overwhelming when you first start looking through seed catalogs or making lists of the plants you want to include in your edible landscape. There are so many options that it can be difficult to narrow it down. Take tomatoes, as an example. You’ve got the heirlooms, which right there pose an enormous array of choices. The bizarre shapes and colors are so intriguing, not to mention the range of flavors. Add to this the hybrid varieties and the options increase exponentially. Determinate, indeterminate, cherry, grape, beefsteak, early-season, late-season. How do you choose?
The first thing to do is to sit down and make a list.
- Include in that list every fruit and vegetable you enjoy eating.
- If you’re anything like me, this list will be quite long. Even if you think the plant might be hard to grow, or may not grow in your climate, add it to the list.
- There may be an option for growing a non-hardy plant in a container, or there may be a similar plant to use as an alternative.
- Write down everything you think of. There’s time for editing later.
On the top of many lists will likely be tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, beans, cucumbers, and basil.
- These garden staples are common because they’re relatively easy to grow, start easily from seed, produce a lot throughout the season, and are delicious fresh from the garden.
Now stretch your imagination a bit. Think of going to the grocery store or farmers market. What are the foods that catch your eye that you can never pass up when they’re in season?
- Asparagus? Pie cherries? Brussels sprouts? Apples? Potatoes? Write them all down.
- If you need a little inspiration, page through a seed catalog or peruse one online. You’ll undoubtedly be reminded of a few foods you like that you may have never thought of growing yourself, like artichokes, okra, or cranberries.
[photo by Paul Merkert]
Don’t stop at the edibles. Remember it’s important to have lots of ornamentals in the edible landscape to add color and variety, attract insects, and generally keep the garden diverse and healthy.
- I tend to look for ornamentals that have a long bloom season, are notably good at attracting beneficial insects, and have great color.
- I also choose several of about three different sizes: low and trailing or mounding for borders, medium height for filling in the middle ground, tall and stately for backgrounds.
Once you have that list completed, it’s time to learn a little about these plants—their size, shape, color, light and other growing requirements, as well as each plant’s USDA hardiness zones (if it’s a perennial plant).
- This step is important because it’ll help you narrow down which plants you can grow in your area and figure out where to put the plants in your garden to help them be productive and attractive.
- Remember, varieties will differ a bit, so if you have specific varieties in mind it will be helpful to find this information in catalogs or online.
- If you’ll be starting a lot of your plants from seed, you’ll have a choice of many varieties that are unique or highly ornamental.
- If you plan to buy most plants as seedlings from the garden center, you may have fewer varieties to choose from, but still plenty of options.
- Remember, as you plan your garden, you’ll need to be flexible because the garden center won’t always have the exact variety you had in mind. But you’ll surely find something close that will work equally well. What will make it unique is how you put it all together in your yard.
It’s important to determine the size, texture, form (growth habit), and color of the various plants you’re planning to include in your landscape, just as you would if you were planting ornamentals.
- These details will help determine where the plants will fit into the landscape, whether or not they’ll need to be supported, which other plants will grow well near them, as well as how the plant will look.
- For instance, if you’ll be including tomatoes in your landscape, you’ll need to know if the varieties you choose are determinate or indeterminate, because these two growth habits create quite different plants.
- Determinate tomatoes (see Tomatoes 101 here) support themselves fairly well and may only need a simple stake to keep them upright when they become weighed down with big juicy tomatoes.
- Conversely, indeterminate tomatoes grow more like vines and do well on arbors, fences, or other trellises.
- Other plants can vary greatly in habit, depending on the variety, so be sure to know if your squash is trailing or bush-type, if your beans are runners or bush, if your pak choi is standard or dwarf, and whether or not your strawberries produce runners.
- You can print out plant descriptions and photos from the Internet, or cut them out of seed catalogs and group them together in categories so they’re easy to find.
- For example, a section on greens can include all kinds of lettuce, chard, kale, mustard, arugula, and so on.
- You could group them by size, so if you’re looking for a short plant to add to a border you can page to that section and choose the right plant to fit the space.
- An online search can provide descriptions about the size, texture, and color of most plant varieties out there.
- You can track down growing information, often from university extension websites and seed company websites, and print that to include in the binder.
- An online image search can provide photos of the plant in different stages of growth and used in different ways (border, container, etc.).
- This information can be grouped on a page for inspiration and as a reminder of what the plant looks like.
- If a lot of varieties of a particular plant are available (tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, etc.) print out info pages on several different varieties and add those to the binder.
- By doing all this, you will learn about the plants and become familiar with them and at the same time build a reference tool that you can go back to year after year.
As you can see, the book is packed with ideas and beautiful photos to help get your edible landscape started.