“You can’t do that…vegetables belong in the vegetable garden not the front yard!” I quote this statement paraphrased for editorial reasons as I have heard it a few times relating to various personal landscapes. Traditionally the vegetable growing component of the garden was relegated to a larger plot, typically in the rear of the home and usually maintained in neat, almost militaristic, precision rows. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, however, many urban lots are not large enough or perhaps not configured in a way that this approach is reasonable. Societal pressure also plays a role in what is considered acceptable as an urban landscape. I find this interesting to say the least. Let’s consider the genesis of vegetable gardening in Canada. Initially food was grown as a necessity and with many urban dwellers coming from rural backgrounds, it was a no brainer, everyone in town had a veggie plot of potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and so on. Many new Canadians from various European heritages brought their intrinsic abilities and in some cases, seeds of their favourite crops. During the war years, of course many households were maintained by the women, responsible for raising the family, growing and harvesting the food under very difficult circumstances. Once peace came into being and the men returned home, they noticed a few flowers dotting the predominant vegetable plots basically planted to brighten up the otherwise gloomy scenario of wartime, rationing and hard times. Gradually more and more colourful plants entered into the urban landscape and as times improved, vegetable gardens for the most part shrunk, in size. Societal trends starting shifting as well, with an improving economy and a baby boom in full swing, the days of laboring in large vegetable plots were a distant memory for many; grocery stores were now carrying produce. One could go shopping and purchase peas, carrot, potatoes and most of the otherwise locally grown commodities. During those times I have heard it said, in paraphrase “we don’t have to grow our own vegetables, we can now afford to go to the market and buy them, and only the poor grow their own.” Sad but a reality indeed but thankfully the pendulum has swung completely back and today in the 21st century it’s quite respectable if not “cool” to grow your own food.
Growing incredible edibles within your landscape is not only fun, curious to most, but easy as anything to accomplish. Naturally not every veggie is well suited to be on display as it were, but there many that even the newest green thumb can rely on. Starting with a few basics is always wise. The entire lettuce family requires compost rich, well-watered soil and decent light conditions, definitely not shade. Cruise the produce aisle of the supermarket and take note of the various leaf shapes and colours that are available. I prefer to grow lettuce with Heuchera or Tiarella, both very popular perennials these days. The brilliant foliage lasts well into the season and up to frost. Lettuce varieties require similar growing conditions and can be harvested throughout the season without leaving a gaping hole in the landscape. Similarly, the much larger flowering kale and cabbage have been so popular over the past years. Cabbage kin are the same shape and there are variations in colour as well, so consider them for containers and as punctuation points in the landscape. Carrots, with their feathery foliage, are delightful grown in amongst perennials with coarser foliage and in full sun, Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla) for example. The trick is not to sown to thickly and of course thin so as to allow only a few carrots to develop. For extra fun and interest with younger gardeners plant Paris round or purple carrots, they always receive rave reviews from junior gardeners and foodies.
Climbers of the veggie persuasion are also very useful in the landscape. As an example, take any of the pea varieties, they work beautifully as wind and sun protectors for more tender plants, particularly on a balcony. Should you chose to containerize pea plants, ensure that the media is rich in compost and if you prefer to use fertilizers, apply regularly with ample water. The crop of peas will be practically all season; the foliage and flowers add a new dimension to any garden and kids simply love them. Scarlet runner beans are really not all that edible but they too add a dimension to the balcony garden.
The entire notion here is to simply try placing edibles among your existing “landscape”. Judge for yourselves and use your own artistic abilities to grow an edible landscape, or at least a portion of the yard to munch on.