A Kitchen Garden For All
by Kathryn Mcholm
The most popular topic of conversation lately has, no doubt, been about the long, drawn out winter but, believe it or not, spring will be here by the time you read this article and you may be thinking about planning your garden! If you’re a tomato lover, you would have planted your seeds by now. If you’ve procrastinated, it may be a little late for ordering seed from a catalogue, but store displays abound with a good selection. It’s not too late, however, to think about a completely different approach to your flower beds and choose seeds (or starter plants) accordingly. Depending on exposure to the sun, soil type and accessibility, you can convert your flower beds to kitchen gardens (or at least a portion of them).
What is often referred to as a kitchen garden or “potager” is full of herbs, edible flowers and vegetables, all planted so it’s decorative as well as practical. It could be small, raised beds with one or more varieties planted to each with symmetry and colours taken into consideration, but an already existing bed along the side of your house in close proximity to your kitchen door, could also work. In my yard, I have several garden areas. I plant tomatoes and pole beans within teepee-like supports and often close by are butterfly plants. Seldom do I plant in rows—favouring groupings instead. So, try to think outside the usual.
Keep in mind that not all vegetables require full sun. Lettuce, Swiss chard, beets and several others will tolerate part shade. Oftentimes, many vegetables will do better out of the noonday sun and can still thrive on four to six hours of sunlight daily. Some plants favour acid soils, others more alkaline, and some vegetables and herbs are not fans of jug lone from walnut trees. Every garden is different, so changes may take some thought.
It’s good for your children or grandchildren to experience self-sufficiency. They can learn by helping to plant and harvest homegrown food. So, think about where you might incorporate a kitchen garden on your property and have young children help with the planting—it is then that they will know that vegetables don’t always come from a store.
Michael Pollan, in his In Defense of Food, states, “The food you grow yourself is fresher than any you can buy and it costs nothing but an hour or two of work each week, plus the price of a few packets of seeds.”
Below are some examples of simple kitchen gardens.
In an area approximately three metres by two metres (or even smaller), you can create a rectangle of plantings of a variety of colours and textures. Start on the outside edges of the garden by sowing contrasting colours of lettuce in groups or wavy rows along with curly parsley and English or French thyme (that could take over when the lettuce bolts in the heat).Then, the next layer of taller plants could be basil (dark opal and genovese). Next, on the inside forming a rectangle, could be beets, then radishes (that you let bloom so you can eat the flowers and pods). Carrots come next. They could frame a planting of chives and kale in the very centre. The plantings will have little space between for weeds to grow, but you could mulch once the seeds germinate.
Or, in your perennial border where you might already have daylilies and lavender, add annual calendula, perennial winter savoury, mesclun mix and some bergamot among the existing plants. And, perhaps, behind on a trellis, plant pole beans (eg. scarlet runner flowers are edible as well as the large beans… and they attract hummingbirds) alongside other suitable vines. You may have to add stepping stones to access all the plants and mulch between (mown dried leaves are my favourite), but you could use straw (that will disappear as everything grows) or some other material (woodchips are best left for pathways and around shrubs).
If you don’t have a big enough yard, too much shade or any other complicating factor, a “garden” can also be added to a planter. Try Egyptian onions (walking onion) or lemon grass in the centre—maybe some garlic chives, and surround with pansies or viola, then seed trailing nasturtiums among them to take over when the pansies fade. A window box—the wider and deeper the better (or repurpose metal drums, even large wooden boxes)—could also be planted to be decorative as well as edible with various kinds of basil or salad greens. Let your imagination go wild!
Also consider planting garlic (or other members of the allium family) alongside rose bushes. The garlic helps prevent black spot on the leaves and supposedly deters aphids. I’ve never had either, so I guess it works!
Make use of all those damaged tree limbs. With all the tree damage that has occurred this past winter, there is no shortage of material for creating plant supports this year. You can make teepees for pole beans or “cages” for tomatoes. Choose branches or small trees about 3 cm or 1 inch in diameter and 2 metres tall (more or less). Remove any foliage (such as on cedar), but leave the small side twigs, if you prefer a more rustic look. Use 3 to 5 pieces, and dig the bottom ends into the ground about 30 cm (1 inch) apart. Use wire to bind the tops and 2 or 3 wire hoops (plied flexible twigs or vines, etc. of different sizes) to stabilize the support and keep the plant material contained (see illustration).