There are a lot of advantages of incorporating veggies into your ornamental garden beds.
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Just because a plant is edible doesn't mean it doesn't have ornamental qualities to add to the landscape. Master gardener Paul James explaines the advantages of incorporating veggies into your ornamental garden beds.
The spot he chose a few years ago for his vegetable garden isn't working out. The bed has become a favorite hangout for rabbits and raccoons as well as neighborhood dogs and cats, and the space is surrounded by mature plants and trees whose roots are rapidly growing into the improved soil. It doesn't get nearly enough sun as most vegetable gardens need, but worst of all, it floods. Just last month, the entire garden space was completely under water following three inches of rain in as many hours. "My dilemma then," says James, "is where do I plant all the vegetables I love so much?"
Out of desperation, James decided to interplant his veggies in and among the ornamental beds. "It's a technique called edible landscaping, and while it's hardly new, it's fairly new to me." One of the greatest things about planting your vegetables in and among the ornamentals is that insect pests rarely bother edibles. When you plant your edibles all over the place and spread them out, rather than planting them in one dedicated spot, the bugs have a much tougher time finding them.
James selects a spot in his sunny evergreen bed for some summer squash (Cucurbita pepo), namely 'Patty Pan'. Just pull back any existing mulch, create a planting mound in the soil, plant five seeds about 1/2-inch deep, then cover and water. When all the seedlings have emerged, thin all but two or three of them. In 50 days or so, the squash will be ready for harvest.
In a bed where many of the plants are upright growers, James plants some corn seeds here and there, and since corn doesn't take up a whole lot of horizontal space, it will have plenty of room to grow.
In a new bed where most of the surrounding landscape plants are fairly small, James plants a few seeds of cantaloupe in the same way he planted the squash — pulling the mulch back, creating a planting mound, then planting a few seeds, covering and watering. The cantaloupe will get full sun and have plenty of room to roam in this garden bed, and since this whole bed is already mulched, the vines will be less susceptible to soil-borne diseases like powdery mildew.
In another sunny bed, James plants a tomato: he makes a fairly good-sized hole and amends the native soil with a generous amount of compost. James trims all but the top few leaves of the tomato transplant and plants it almost to the top of those leaves. For the final touch, James re-applies the mulch, then cages the tomato plant, a technique he prefers over staking. After the cages are in place, he waters the plants. Remember, too, that tomatoes have the ability to produce roots along the entire length of their stem. So by planting them deeply, they produce more roots and are better equipped to withstand long periods of drought.
Elsewhere in this bed, James plants some relatives of the tomato, namely peppers, including jalapeno and serrano, as well as some eggplant. Unlike the tomato plants, James recommends staking and tying these plants since they don't grow as rampantly as tomatoes but do get top-heavy when loaded with fruit.
In this sunny location, James also plants three different basil transplants — a lettuce-leaf variety, holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), and 'Sweet Dani' Ocimum basilicum, a 1998 All-American selection. Placed nearby, just to add a little color and contrast, he adds some golden sage, a beautiful plant that's as ornamental as it is edible.
Scattering veggies throughout your landscape beds means that you can enjoy fresh produce even if you don't have a place for a full-scale garden.