by Charlene Burgi
Years ago, people would comment about how large the yard was in the home where my daughter and son grew up. I think back to that place now and recall that it was an average subdivision-size lot. It didn’t seem big to me at the time, and it was designed for low maintenance except for about a third that was dedicated to fruit trees and a vegetable garden with raised beds.
Over the years, I noticed homes getting bigger while gardens got smaller. Many people with busy lives looked for less landscape to care for when shopping for a new home. Yet recently there seems to be a change in the tides. “What can I do to create a bigger garden in such a small space?” is the question that I hear most often. The push for “victory gardens,” the desire to grow organic, and the wish to avoid genetically modified foods are settling into our bones. We want to do what is healthy for the soil as well as our bodies. As gardeners look for ways to maximize space, vertical gardens are popping up in magazines and catalogs. Ads boast about the production of veggies grown in special portable bags. Tomatoes are grown as hanging plants. The retail market recognizes a need that didn’t exist in the past.
What did folks do before these new conveniences? My mom didn’t have a large planting area in her back yard, but she had an abundance of zucchini, basil, parsley, tomatoes, string beans and various herbs that she used for cooking. She maximized the little space she had by planting many of her veggies and herbs in containers. Compact veggies were chosen for the containers, leaving the sprawling varieties such as zucchini, tomatoes and string beans for planting in the ground. She chose container sizes specifically to accommodate the eventual size of the plants within. All containers had holes in the bottom for good drainage; a handful of crushed rock; and a mixture of good compost, steer or chicken manure, and topsoil. The containers could be positioned for best exposure for the sun-lovers like basil or parsley, while lettuce was saved for the shady spots in her yard.
If you need to maximize your garden area with containers, there are a few things to remember before starting:
- Container plants require a bit more maintenance than plants growing in the ground.
- Containers need more water. The air circulating around the containers will dry out the soil faster.
- Vegetables are heavy feeders, and the soil in containers is limited for drawing on additional microorganisms. A monthly application of organic compost tea should sustain a healthy environment and keep production at an optimum.
- Place a layer of mulch around your plants to decrease the amount of evaporation from the soil.
Are you looking for more space in your garden to give vegetables a place but don’t want the clutter of containers? One way to expand your growing space is to add vegetables to your existing landscape! Intermix rainbow Swiss chard with perennials, and add a border of parsley or beets. Or mix ‘Dark Opal’ basil with its beautiful deep red-purple leaves and pink flowers with ‘Pizzazz White’ wax begonias. The effect can be gorgeous!
One word of caution if you mix your veggies with existing landscaping: Plant the vegetables in an area with plants that require the same amount of water. You wouldn’t want to risk drowning your prized lavender by sharing its hydrozone with lemon cucumbers! Keep shade-loving, high-water-use plants together, and irrigate sun-loving plants with vegetables with the same growing needs.
The warm weather is a temptress. Start your seeds, prepare the soil, or plan how those vertical gardens will work into your landscape!
Hold the Date: Marin-Friendly Garden Tour May 18
If you are in search of more garden inspiration, don’t miss our Marin-Friendly Garden Tour on Saturday, May 18! This FREE, self-guided tour showcases Marin gardens designed to protect our local environment and conserve our precious water resources. Complete the simple online registration and reserve your spot today!