Mary Beerman, Durham
Gardens serve many purposes. We create gardens to mimic nature; recreating what nature can do but in our own kind. It has been said that we garden to feed our souls.
To truly ‘feed our souls’ we can actually grow plants that nourish our bodies. Our thoughts about food gardens take us to a completely different type of garden: the vegetable garden, the kitchen garden, the potager. Edible plants include vegetables, fruits and herbs. Growing these plants in a separate garden may make gardening easier however most of us do not have the luxury of space and there is growing scientific evidence to show that growing our ornamental plants and our edible plants together is better. It makes the most of companion planting advantages and therefore requires less energy input by the entire environmental system including ourselves as the nurturers.
To embark on this critical point of redesign, a closer mimic of nature, we need to clearly delineate what our cool and warm season crops are. They perform differently at different times of the growing season. Cool season crops are spring and fall producers like the leafy greens of spinach, kale, mache, arugula, endive and swiss chard. Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, onions, radishes, beets as well as peas are also cool season plants. Warm season plants come to life in the heat of the summer; plants like beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash and melons.
A second point to consider is which plants die back after harvest or are completely removed. Some plant will retain their foliage and can remain in the garden landscape perennially. Think of most of the berry plants. Herbs are hardy performers and usually increase exponentially in size when pruned or thinned. Many can over winter and respond well to transplanting indoors during the coldest months. All the leafy greens will re-grow several times after cutting. The trick to incorporating these plants is that eventually, during the hottest months they tend to go to seed quickly or slow in growth leaving a potential hole in your garden landscape. Root vegetables require some careful landscape design consideration since they gain full size each growing season and usually need to be removed at some point, disturbing the earth around them.
A final consideration is the growing habit of the plant. Is it a low grower, mounding, a bush, a vine, a tree? Isn’t this sounding like the design choices you’d make if you were choosing an ornamental plant?
Enjoy the challenge and pleasure of a garden to eat and breath in. Plant edibles!