Getout & grow

Published on Thu, Apr 1, 2004
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Get out & grow

Creating the perfect garden

by B. Durbin Wean

Today we are going to stretch a little bit from the more formal look that we talked about last week. We can combine a sense of structure and form with use and beauty by growing fruits, vegetables, flowers and shrubs in a garden called a “potager.” This word comes from the French meaning “kitchen garden.”

One of the keys to planting a potager is to abandon the utilitarian idea of sowing a crop in squares or in perfect lines. However, potagers are usually a number of beds arranged in a geometric pattern most often rectangular, although it can take the form of a diamond or even have triangular beds radiating from a central point. Imagine a large globe artichoke in the center or you might have a potted rosemary, topiary, or tree rose. You can grow fruits, vegetables and herbs in containers or interesting shapes to make a feature out of them. Espalier pears or apples on a wall or a fence make an interesting display that is space saving. Many nurseries have espalier fruit trees with several different varieties of fruit grafted on each tree.

Here is the way to plan and plant your potager. The simplest design in a small yard is to take a square and divide it into quarters with a cross shaped path. Your path can be as simple as dirt with straw on it or as structured as one that is paved with pavers or brick. In larger gardens I really like to see a central area with beds radiating around it. Make sure your garden is in full sun and be sure to enrich your soil with compost as fruits, flowers and vegetables need light, space and rich soil. Make sure to mulch your soil also to conserve water and to keep the soil light. You can buy fertilized mulch or use straw.

In planting your garden making the right choices is a matter of personal taste, but where space is short stick to good producers with ornamental value. Runner beans are high performers that look as good as they taste. Try red cabbages, ruby or bright lights Swiss chard and beets whose green tops are laced with red. Juxtapose tall fluffy fennel, with broad-leaved lettuce. Plant fluffy leaved carrots with big round nasturtiums. Grow several different kinds of parsley like Italian flat leaf and curly leaf. Try purple basil. In fact, basil is so wonderful, try several different varieties.

Try something different! Experiment with unusual vegetables for the sheer fun of it. Endive and chicory are both very decorative, endive with frilly leaves and chicory with red, is known as radicchio. Try Chinese vegetables like boy choy and other greens. In the warmest part of your yard try a striped or yellow tomato. Don’t forget patty pan squashes, they are wonderful as they look like flying saucers and have huge creamy flowers. Eat them when they are young. Plant blueberries in an area where you can make sure the soil is acidic, in the same area you could also plant other acid lovers like heathers, azaleas or rhododendrons. Blueberries are lovely in the fall when their leaves turn red.

If your space is limited, you could make a simple structure of four wooden posts with crossbeams over the top. Plant it with peas, beans, ornamental gourds, cucumbers, or purple runner beans that turn green when cooked.

Try edging around your beds of dwarf clipped boxwood, lavender or santolina. Try to arrange the beds so none is over five feet wide. This allows you to work from the edge of the bed without stepping on it. If you want to add height, you can plant dwarf fruit trees, make or buy teepees and plant scarlet runner beans or sweet peas in each bed. For the entry into your garden why not plant a couple of rose standards or maybe add an arch with a honeysuckle twining around.
You can start getting your garden ready by locating the site, rototilling and bringing in compost. In mid-April you can start cool season veggies, plant your boxwood, or other edgings, your roses and any other hardy perennial you want in your potager. Then wait! In mid-May you can plant all your other veggies and annuals.

Two good sources for top soil, mulch, bark and other amendments are: Growsource on the Hanagen Road and Smit Dairy in Lynden. Both of these businesses will deliver or you can take your truck and pick up a yard or two.

Many nurseries also carry topsoil and other amendments. Special seeds (unusual) can be found at Territorial Seeds,
Some nurseries and seed companies also carry unusual seeds. Bakerview Nursery and Hohl’s Feed and Seed in Bellingham are good sources.