Vegetable gardens are sometimes drab and, when you have limited space, it becomes a war between practicality and beauty. It doesn't have to be that way since it's possible to grow food and still have a beautiful garden.
Join us as we look at seven different ways you can turn your vegetable garden from drab to fab and get the best of both worlds.
Tip 1: Abandon Traditional Row Gardens
When most of us think of vegetable gardens, the first thing that comes to mind is a traditional row garden. While this setup has a certain type of rustic appeal, it's a far cry from the beautiful cottage garden you may be dreaming of.
Fortunately, vegetables don't need to be planted in rows, and there are some excellent alternatives. These include:
There's no need to separate your plants by type, and some types will even benefit from being near another type. Basil and tomatoes are one well-known example, and nasturtiums and broccoli are another. With some research and careful consideration, you can choose plants that benefit one another and create a pretty sight.
Keyhole gardens are among the most effective gardens invented thus far. Typically, they're a perfect circle with a triangular slit, or keyhole, cut out of one side.
By planting the tallest plants in the center of the circle, and gradually shorter species in each successive ring, you get a graduated garden that looks beautiful. The keyhole provides access to the plants that you can't reach from outside the garden.
Tip 2: Summer Means Color, So Add Some
Summer is a season of color, with flowers blooming everywhere and fields turning green and gold. Sadly, for far too many gardeners, the vegetable garden is nothing but a sea of green. Fortunately, there are ways to eliminate that color poverty.
Despite what many people think, flowers are a welcome addition to the vegetable garden. If you choose wisely, they can even help increase how much food you harvest. Remember, as much as houseplants benefit from pruning, it can benefit your garden flowers as well.
Useful flower types for the vegetable garden include:
- Chamomile: Typically known for its use as a tea herb, few people consider chamomile for its beauty. These fine-leaved plants will make sprawling bushes full of white flowers and self-seed readily. Plant them where you want them, and they'll come back year after year.
- Marigolds: Marigolds come in different shades of yellow and orange and various sizes. You can choose from Dwarf French Marigolds or types that form a medium-sized bush. If you're a lazy gardener, you can even plant perennials like Mexican or Mountain Marigolds.
Expert Tip: Marigolds contain a chemical that helps repel pest insects. Plant them near your suffering crops.
- Hollyhocks: Hollyhocks are tall flowering plants that come in an entire rainbow of colors and form a beautiful backdrop for shorter crop plants. They also attract bees that will help pollinate your veggies.
Many people love tomatoes as a food item, but few gardeners realize how many colors this crop can add to the garden. The different tomato colors range from the well-known reds to purples, browns, yellows, and even blues.
Some striking color variations include:
- Japanese Black Plum: A beautiful climbing variety that features a spectacular color gradient. The bottom of the tomato is bright red, and it steadily fades to the entirely black top.
- Blondkopfchen: The blondkopfchen (German for little blonde girl) is a tall plant that produces multitudes of small, yellow cherry tomatoes.
- Aunt Ginny's Purple: This variety produces large, heavy fruits that are a rich purple in color.
Orange carrots are the type we all know and love, but there's an entire kaleidoscope of other options. In fact, orange carrots were only developed in the 17th century to honor William of Orange, who led the Dutch independence.
Before that time, most cultivated carrots were purple. Experts believe that the original wild carrot may have been brown.
Some excellent modern varieties include:
- Cosmic Purple: The name says it all. These carrots are extremely purple and produce medium to large roots.
- Lunar White: If you'd like to incorporate something truly different, this colorless carrot might do it. They're white as marble and produce some decent root sizes.
- Ideal Red: These carrots are redder than Rudolph's nose and produce good yields.
Tip 3: Explore the Unusual
Lack of variety is probably one of the main reasons behind gardeners' negative opinion of vegetable gardening. Most gardeners grow the same leafy greens, salads, and brassicas year after year.
However, it doesn't have to be that way. There's plenty of alternative, exotic, and unusual vegetables (like the Lakota Squash) waiting to be discovered.
- Kohlrabi: The Kohlrabi, or German Turnip, is a fascinating vegetable that tastes like a sweet cabbage. It creates large, edible bulbs that make a delicious alternative to traditional coleslaw. You can also use it in any other way you'd cook traditional cabbage.
- Orach: The Orach, or Mountain Spinach, is a spectacular spinach alternative that thrives in cool climates. You can use it in the same way as conventional spinach, but red orach plants can add a spectacular splash of crimson to your garden.
- Malabar Spinach: The Malabar, or Indian, Spinach is another fascinating alternative to the traditional green crop. This plant is a climbing perennial that will provide the gardener with heavy yields of spinach-like leaves year-round.
Tip 4: Vegetables and Herbs Have Flowers Too
Most of us consider vegetables and herbs to be little more than useful plants. However, many crop plants have exquisite flowers, and planting them among your other vegetables can help give your garden character.
Here are a few of our favorite flowering friends:
- Dill: While most gardeners grow dill for the leaves they use when making pickles, this herb has beautiful flowers. Each plant produces multiple stalks that carry mushroom-shaped masses of tiny yellow florets.
Their beauty and shape can leave you feeling like you're waiting for the faeries to pop out of the undergrowth. Especially look out for mammoth dill, which grows into tall forests of yellow powder puffs.
- Basil: Your favorite Meditteranean herb for making pizzas and pasta has a secret: it produces marvelous flower stalks. Basil flowers come in a wide array of colors which include, white, mauve, green, and purple. Many florists buy red basil specifically for use in bouquets.
- Beans and Peas: Many of the legumes, like beans and peas, produce beautiful flowers. Depending on the variety you plant, you can expect pink, white, or even yellow flowers. Like their ornamental cousins, the sweetpeas, these plants can produce many blossoms in a season.
- Nasturtiums: Few people realize that Nasturtiums are more than just an ornamental beauty. You can eat both the leaves and blossoms of nasturtium plants, and they have a strong peppery taste which works well in salads. Furthermore, these plants help protect neighboring plants by drawing much of the pest pressure.
- Chrysanthemums: In addition to the vast color spectrum they offer, several types of chrysanthemums are edible. Many gourmet restaurants use Chrysanthemum petals as part of their salads.
Tip 5: Get Out of the Box
Raised bed gardening is extremely popular, and with good reason. Raised beds are versatile, easy to manage, and orderly.
However, using the same boxed garden bed design every season can become bland at some point in the process. Here are some tips to help you shake things up:
- Paint your raised beds with non-toxic paint. If you'd like to mix things up with your existing raised beds, consider painting them with non-toxic, waterproof paint. You can paint them all one color or go wild and paint a rainbow.
Chalk paint is another possibility and gives the kids something to do while you're gardening. Otherwise, visitors can leave notes on the sides of your garden beds.
- Pick unusual shapes. No rule says all raised bed gardens must be squares or rectangles. Go wild. Build stars, octagons, or a fortress-shaped bed with a trellis that looks like a bridge. Your imagination is your only limitation.
- Build your own concrete beds. Building concrete raised beds is a lot easier than it sounds, and there are hundreds of tutorials for building a mold for raised beds. Consider concrete as an alternative to wooden beds.
- Build or buy stacking container beds. Stacking container towers like the Greenstalk planters are an excellent way to use space efficiently. They also offer a convenient diversion from the standard containers and beds. If you decide to go this route, check out our excellent article about maintaining container gardens.
Make Your Garden Pop This Summer
We hope you've found this article useful and that you'll be planting a colorful garden this summer that leaves you breathless.
- Avoid row gardens since they look formal and detract from the beauty of the garden's design.
- Add plenty of colorful flowers and vegetables to your garden this season.
- Explore unusual and exotic vegetables that offer exciting new design opportunities.
- Take advantage of flowering herbs and vegetables.
- Forget about standard raised beds; make something exciting!
If you have any questions, comments, or tips about how to make summer vegetable gardens pop, we'd love to hear from you. Feel free to drop a comment below.
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