Spice up your edible garden with a theme
During the pandemic, about 15 million people became new gardeners, and research shows that the majority of them are growing or plan to grow edible plants.
Always grow the herbs and vegetables that you and your family enjoy. May is a good month to get many of those plants in the ground.
Whether you’re new to gardening or a seasoned grower, mix it up by selecting a theme for this year’s garden. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Some of these ideas are better suited for a garden bed, while others can be adapted to container gardening.
A pizza-themed garden should include tomatoes and the toppings you crave.
If you want to be visually thematic, place the tomatoes in cages in the middle and grow wedges of the other plants to form a circular garden. Use wood strips or metal edging to delineate “slices.” Each slice could be a different ingredient: bell pepper, oregano, onions and basil, for example.
Planting yellow and orange marigolds among the edibles in the circle will deter not-so-desirable insects. The color of the marigolds will be a nod to the gooey cheese on a pizza.
Determine the dimensions of your pizza plot by making sure you have enough room for the number of plants you want to include. Check seed packets and starter plant tags for spacing recommendations.
As a former English teacher, I love Shakespearean gardens, which can be found throughout the English-speaking world. While Shakespeare’s plays mention 175 plants, a more manageable garden could showcase some of the herbs in Shakespeare’s plays.
If you don’t have room for a large garden, you could grow these herbs in containers. Label plant stakes with the name of the herb and the play.
Consider some of the following: lavender, mint and savory (also spelled “savorie”) from A Winter’s Tale; thyme from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; chamomile from Henry IV, Part 1; rosemary from Hamlet; and parsley from Taming of the Shrew. What about including a resin bust of the bard himself?
Make sure to tend your garden, because, as Shakespeare writes in Henry VI, Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1, “Now ‘tis spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted; Suffer them now and they’ll o’ergrow the garden.”
Herbs from the Bible
The work of a gardener is also described near the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (NIV).
The Bible mentions about 125 plants, including some that won’t grow in Zone 7. To try your hand at a Bible herb garden, consider edible herbs from the book of Exodus such as coriander/cilantro and sage. You could plant dill mentioned in Isaiah. From Matthew, you could include anise, black mustard and cumin.
If you’d like to visit a garden that contains other plants from the Bible, Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg has a small garden near its Parish House.
How much fun it would be for a grandchild to see a rainbow of color growing in your garden? And how healthy it would be for all of us to eat a rainbow of vegetables?
If you are doing square foot gardening — a method by which you mark the garden in square foot sections with string or a similar method — then plant the suggested number of plants per square foot to produce a rainbow of veggies.
Try purple, orange, or green cauliflower (1 plant per square foot); golden beets (9 plants); purple, red, white or yellow carrots (16); and Easter egg radishes (16). In one bunch of radishes, the skin colors range from white to pink to crimson to purple.
Native Americans taught early European settlers the basics of companion planting. Grow corn, squash and beans together to see the benefits that each veggie lends to the others.
Legumes such as beans have a relationship with Rhizobium bacteria in soil, which convert nitrogen into a form that plants can use — corn requires a lot of nitrogen. In return, cornstalks provide a natural trellis for pole beans to climb.
Another benefit: the tall canopy of corn foliage may confuse squash borers from finding the squash. Meanwhile, the broad, spreading leaves of squash vines reduce weeds and hold moisture for both the corn and beans. Prickly squash vines growing up corn stalks may deter raccoons from ravaging ears of corn.
Plant the sisters in clusters on low wide mounds rather than in a single traditional row.
When you plant a salsa garden, you must include tomatoes. Think about “Celebrity,” “Better Boy,” “Early Girl,” “Roma” or “Sweet Million” (cherry) cultivars. You could also include “husk tomatoes” (tomatillos). Add tangy cilantro to the mix — and don’t forget the peppers.
Bell pepper cultivars to consider are “California Wonder,” “Big Bertha,” “Sweet Banana” and “Golden Summer.” For the real heat, add jalapeño, cayenne, habanero or Hungarian wax hot peppers.
Include onions, garlic, basil and oregano too. Think of the delicious homemade salsa you can prepare from your yard.
Perhaps these “recipes” will spark ideas for your own themed garden. The Virginia Cooperative Extension provides publications (bit.ly/homeveggarden) and other resources to help if you’re new to veggie gardening.
Lela Martin is a Master Gardener with the Chesterfield County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.