Groundbreaking Food Gardens is a great book to take new vegetable gardeners into an exciting and varied garden world this very long slow cold spring.
The snow is finally gone, even here in Heath, and bulbs are blooming and tender shoots are evident all through the perennial beds. I can finally think about the vegetable garden.
I actually have two vegetable gardens. One is very small. The Front Garden, or Early Garden, as I sometime call it, is right in front of the east end of the house. It consists of two beds, about 32 inches by 9 feet, separated by a woodchip path. This is where I plant the hardiest crops, seeds and seedlings. They are easy to remember right in front of the house, small enough to weed in the few odd minutes I spend surveying them every day, and easy to keep watered because an outdoor spigot is right near by.
The other garden is located at the end of the Rose Walk enclosed by a tall chicken wire fence to keep the deer out. It is not very lovely but I call it the Potager, a French word for a beautifully designed kitchen garden that includes flowers and herbs. My potager includes red raspberries, vegetables, a few herbs and annual flowers, but it is not beautifully designed.
While any well kept vegetable garden is a thing of beauty, most people did not think about vegetable gardens in terms of beautiful design until recently. Niki Jabbour, author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, appealed to 73 gardeners/garden writers of every variety to design and describe all manner of edible gardens. The result is Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans that Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden published by Storey.
When I emailed Jabbour to ask why she wrote this book she replied, “As a gardener, I’m always curious about what other gardeners are doing and growing in their own plots. This book is the result of that curiosity and I hope that gardeners will find it full of useful tips, techniques, plans and ideas that can be used to boost productivity, add diversity and encourage pollinators and beneficial insects in their own gardens. The many contributors generously shared their expertise with me and I hope that gardeners will benefit from their experiences. Personally, I’m in the middle of a re-shuffling of my garden layout that is a direct result of writing this book. I’m picking elements from many of the plans to make my garden more beautiful and productive.”
This book certainly looks at gardens from every angle. Do you live in a town or city? Check out Theresa Loe’s Urban Homestead. Do you have land for a garden like Jennifer Bartley’s American potager, or is your garden space limited and containers are your only planting plots? See what Renee Shepherd and Beth Benjamin can grow in containers. Do you want to preserve your harvest? Daniel Gasteiger has a plan for a canner’s garden. Do you want a garden where you can entertain guests over fancy libations? Look no farther than Amy Stewart and Susan Morrison’s cocktail garden.
What are your edible passions? Chilis? Figs? Herbs? Italian vegetables? Asian vegetables? There is a garden for every taste. Literally.
Each garden comes with a bright plan illustrated by Anne Smith, Elayne Sears or Mary Ellen Carsley, plant lists, and explanations of why each gardener grows certain plants, and why they avoid certain plants. Nan Chase has a beautiful and varied front and side yard garden with fruit trees, herbs, blueberries, vegetables and flowers, but she never grows zucchini, squash and cucumbers because of bugs and powdery mildew, and she says she gets lots of tomatoes from all her friends so she doesn’t grow her own.
I was particularly taken with Ellen Eckert Ogden’s Formal Kitchen Garden even though there is no chance I will ever have such an elegant garden. Ogden lives in Vermont so I feel a sentimental connection, having spent some of my young years on a farm outside Burlington. Her design is 30 by 35 feet, which means it could fit into almost any backyard. She is a cook as well as a gardener so her garden surrounds a picnic table.
Although raised beds have become popular Ogden prefers soil level beds because she finds it is easier to “add compost, plant cover crops, and work the earth . . . and harder to do with a raised bed.
When faced with a big rack of colorful seed packets it is hard to narrow down what to plant. Ogden begins by thinking what she most likes to eat, but also what is most expensive to buy. What is most delicious when it is really fresh? Lettuce and other salad greens! Gourmet beans like ‘Fin de Bagnol’ bush bean and ‘Kwintus’ an early pole bean.
Her garden also includes bright varieties of sunflowers and edible little ‘Lemon Gem’ marigolds that add some sunshine to a salad.
As I looked through the different plans I saw changes I would make to almost every one. It can’t be helped. We each have our own tweaks that we would make. I’m never going to use ornamental evergreens as a border, but basil, parsley and bean trees make good borders. I think.
How do you design or layout your edible garden? What are your favorite edibles to grow? I’d love to hear how others approach their vegetable garden. Email me at commonweeder.com and I’ll pass on your thoughts and strategies in another column.
Between the Rows April 26, 2014