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Set some goals for the vegetable garden this spring

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Jeneen Wiche

Weekend Gardener

 

Ten years ago, Andy and I set to the task of building a potager-style vegetable garden. It has largely been a success. Last year sort of swamped us, however. So, with a few months of winter’s rest behind us, we are ready to start planning a recovery of sorts.

Last summer’s rains turned our beautiful potager garden into a weed farm.  The wood chips for mulching are currently waiting in the wings for a dry spell so we can drive them back to the garden and spread them out as paths between our planting beds.

I can hardly wait to get started with a new growing season. Optimism runs high this time of the year. I like growing lots of vegetables but I also like things to look pretty, so this is where a potager-style garden serves both ends. If you are new to this, the first thing to do is to get the design down on paper, no fancy sketching needed.

I put this into practice every year, actually, so I can keep track of what was planted where and I can rotate crops efficiently. Using interesting shapes in your design and shunning traditional straight rows is fun and it makes your vegetable garden, no matter how big or small, as welcoming as the rest of your landscape.  

After the overall shape of the gardening space is determined, you can section out the parts within. Determine the main pathways and situate your largest planting areas off these; you can add smaller beds and footpaths once the anchor beds are established.

If you have a square plot, it could consist of four circle beds in the corners and four triangular beds, with points meeting in the center. Or a long, rectangular plot could be laid out like a grid, for an easier approach. I say be as creative as you can handle, fitting together the pieces of the plot.

Framing the space is important, too, and has several functions. The practical side of framing the garden with a hedge or fence is that it can help keep out certain critters.

However, if an animal is hungry enough they will find a way in. If they are not, then maybe they’ll move on to the neighbor’s garden! Your frame can be a fence; but it can also be a hedge of boxwood, a long-used deer deterrent, or any other combination of plants.

Arborvitae in a row on the west side, boxwood, or dwarf fruit trees for an espaliered living fence, even chain link can be covered with the bounty of a summer vegetable.

If you have something you want to cover, choose climbing crops like pole beans and certain types of peas and cucumbers.

Growing up can mean many things, but in this case, think up with edible and ornament plants that can cover fences, trellises, pergolas, bamboo tepees or any other structure in the garden.

The frame around and the features within the garden create perspective in the space and it is this perspective that gives the plot a more designed feel.

And what good garden design doesn’t have something interesting going on year round?

The vegetable garden is usually ignored in the winter but not so with the fancy potager garden. Instead, the potager is filled with a diverse variety of plant material:  some edible, some not.

This is perhaps the key, above all else, mix your plants, including beds with a mixture that include woody shrubs and small trees, vegetables, annuals, herbs and perennials.

Everything can have a function: the dwarf espaliered apple trees are an edible back drop that will nourish you while you work; the boxwood hedge will deter deer; tomatoes and cucumbers come to the table fresh; the zinnias will fill a vase; the basil will become pesto; the rosemary can be dried and used with lamb; the salvia will attract the hummingbirds that will then eat the mosquitoes before they bite me on summer evenings in my beautiful vegetable garden.