A Compromise Garden -
The Best of Both Worlds
by Bob Fleming
If you're an enthusiastic home gardener on an average sized suburban lot, chances are you've had to restrict your enthusiasm to conform with the space available. Maybe you've sacrificed a vegetable garden for ornamental plants, trees and shrubs. Or perhaps economics dictate that the garden must pay its way and a beautiful garden gives way to a food producing one. Fortunately in the gardening world may be in many cases we can have our garden and eat it too.
The wide ranging families of plants include both those that sustain us physically and please us aesthetically. For example there are many plants related to the lowly potato that are used each year to brighten our gardens. The petunia is a good example. Others are nicotine, Browallia, butterfly plant and Salpiglossis. A number of colourful tropical plants shrubs and vines are related to the potato too.
But let's remember the edible plants in the potato family. There are potatoes of course but the family also includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and of course the now frowned upon tobacco. Many other plant families are just as diversified, and by compromise and plant selection we should be able to come up with a garden to please the eye and to satisfy the palate.
First thing in the spring, as soon as the soil can be well prepared, plant a clump of lettuce plants, or a border if you prefer, in the flower garden. Lettuce belongs in the aster family. They should be ready to harvest by mid June. And why not plant a few onion sets here and there to pull as green onions in early June, or left to mature in late August. When the soil warms up in mid May prepare a fine seed bed and sow an edging of carrots along the front of the garden. The fine, fern-like foliage makes a good frame for the summer flowering annuals. Carrots, by the way, are related to many of the common herbs like coriander, parsley and caraway. Beets might be grown in a similar manner or in clumps of 12 to 15 plants, their bronze-green leaves providing quite a contrast to surrounding foliage. A close relative, Swiss chard, is available in a red stalked variety, very colourful and can be harvested leaf by leaf all season and cooked like spinach.
Fences and trellises offer a home for climbing plants like pole beans of many forms like Scarlet Runner to the vegetable gardener's favourite green and yellow snap beans. Cucumbers, melons and some squash can be trellis trained. For a more permanent fence or trellis or a garage wall try your hand at espaliering fruit trees or train bramble fruits like the new Tayberry or even grapes. The Tayberry is one to train along a boundary fence. The plants are vigorous growers with delicious, large blackberry like fruit in August.
At the back of the garden plant several tomato plants. Choose disease resistant varieties so they will continue to grow and fruit all summer and well into the fall. Either stake the plants or grow them in cages. They will grow better and look better too. Summer annual flowering plants can be planted throughout the garden for colour, the tomatoes and pole beans providing a background of green to show them off. A few pepper plants and an eggplant or two if the family likes them, are quite attractive in the flower garden both in flower and when in fruit.
Permanent plantings needn't be unproductive either, as far as the kitchen is concerned. Well grown red and black currants and gooseberries are attractive, low spreading shrubs, attractive in the garden and provide fresh and preserved fruit for the larder . Prepare a spot with some acid soil and even try your had at blueberries. All these small shrubs have quite striking fall foliage colour.
Companion gardening like this does require some thought and planning. Most fruits and vegetables need plenty of sunlight so don't crowd the plantings. Harvest mature plants and ripe fruit promptly to avoid interfering with younger, smaller plants and developing fruit. Select flowering plants that will complement, not compete with the kitchen brigade. Remember petunias spread and marigolds may shade and all will compete for plant food and moisture.
It can be done. At the beginning we called it a compromise garden. It will need more care and attention but the results could be not only an attractive, colourful garden to see but one that helps to feed the family as well.