Friday, December 7, 2012

Food Gardens and Curb Appeal

People often say to me they would grow more veggies but they don’t like the look of vegetable gardens. What they undoubtedly have in mind is the traditional garden with rows of beans on poles and caged tomatoes. While gardens like that have a certain charm, one would look out of place in front of the typical suburban home. I recently had this discussion with a friend of mine who is thinking about growing garlic next year, but worried that it would not look very pretty in the yard. As the photo from UT Gardens illustrates, food gardens need not be boring and ugly.

Here are some of the points I made:

1) Garlic is not ugly; it just doesn’t offer much to the eye. But that is also true of, say irises, when they are out of bloom. One way to deal with this issue in the design of the landscape is to surround the boring thing with something eye-catching. Annual flowers are cheap, readily available, and in many cases edible. They also come in a sufficient array of colors as to work with any other features of the landscape. Another approach to redirecting the eye is to create a focal point in the middle of the bed. For this, you could use a daylily. They are perennial, carefree, and edible. They also come in a wide range of colors, to blend with existing plantings, if necessary.
2) Very low-maintenance plantings can be created with perennial herbs. You get flavor, seasonal flowers and foliage all year from rosemary, French thyme and Greek oregano.

3) Lettuces, annual herbs (basil, cilantro, dill, parsley) and numerous other salad greens are highly decorative, although more trouble to grow than perennial herbs.
4) Another possibility is strawberries.  They remain compact, bear all season long and have brightly colored foliage at this time of year.

These are but a few examples of things that could combine with a garlic patch to render it not only attractive, but also productive, easily repaying the costs involved by food production. Furthermore, the spot will be re-used year after year, and consequently will get better and better at production as the soil improves. This seems to me to call for a permanent border, so why not have one that is also productive?
Also, please remember that a food garden need not be rectangular in shape nor laid out in rows. Free form designs, or anything that works with existing landscaping is the way to go. But instead of filling with flowers and shrubs, you fill with food plants that perform the same visual functions in the landscape.

You can find a lot more tips on attractive food gardens in The New American Homestead. It is available both in paperback and as an e-book wherever books are sold.
Let me please offer one more observation that I hope will be encouraging: a successful food garden  more often results from a lot of mental effort rather than a lot of physical effort. If well designed, a space the size of my parlor rug could produce an amazing quantity of fresh food.


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