I’m totally spaced out—and not in the fun, 1960s way. Nope, I’m spaced out in that I have used or allocated all available veggie growing space in the Fortress Garden. And yet I still have about 10 baby squash plants (cool squashes: spaghetti, kabocha, red kuri …), a six-pack of bush beans, two artichoke starts, four eggplants of various types, and an overgrown lemon balm bush screaming for division and transplanting, and I’m terrified to even look in my basket of seeds.
I admit it, I overbought. And oversaved seeds. And oversaid “yes!” way too many times to friends with extra starts. So the Fortress Garden is crammed, and I still have the urge to get those extra plants and seeds into the ground.
Now, in addition to raising veggies and herbs, I do dabble in the Landscaping Arts. I follow a school of landscape design known as “Random,” or as it is sometimes known on the East Coast, “Disorganized,” or “Slightly Crazed,” meaning I stuff plants all over the place and hope that by sheer dumb luck, something will take hold. Right now, some sort of seed that I apparently scattered and forgot all about is producing spear-like shoots that I am hoping are going to turn into actual flowers and not Invasive Giant Cat-Eating Weeds. I figure I have about a 60/40 shot.
As I reviewed my latest landscaping effort (on a bank below a new path in the yard), I found myself bemoaning the excess of space between the plants. That’s when it hit me: I could add the veggies in among the ornamentals! Perhaps no one would notice this added element of Randomness/Disorganization! Then I realized something else: Vegetable plants are not just stalks of deliciousness—they are beautiful!
In addition to producing excellent vehicles for carrying garlic butter or curried mayo to one’s mouth, artichoke plants also have lovely, silvery, dramatic leaves. Lemongrass grows into a thick bunch that looks just as groovy as those expensive ornamental grasses. Tomatillos produce gorgeous yellow star-shaped flowers, and eggplants not only have nifty, purple-edged foliage but also sport pale violet bell-shaped flowers and shiny fruits that are nothing short of stunning … especially those Asian striped jobbies. Spectactular!
Then there are the ‘tweeners,” those plants that I grow for the visual impact that also produce food or herbal delights: borage, sunflowers and sage. By transplanting my nice big culinary sage plant from one of the Fortress Garden beds into the area along my new walkway, I not only ended up with a stunning, great-smelling landscape element, but I’ve got sage closer to my kitchen door. The sunflower seeds are going to provide food for birds and bees and maybe even for me, and meanwhile, I get to look at those fat sunny blooms that are my favorite flower. I’m planting pole beans around the base of the giant ones, so the vines will twist up the sunflower stalks and provide even more visual interest, as well as awesome batches of Kentucky Wonders. Borage, with its fuzzy, slightly droopy leaves and electric-blue blossoms, looks great among a little patch of daylilies, and the bright green and yellow variegated leaves of lemon thyme makes it a terrific border plant.
The challenges of gophers and poor soil that drove me to construct the Fortress Garden in the first place are definitely present, but this experiment will let me see which veggies will survive best among their hardy ornamental peers.
Space issues solved! I’m gardening without borders—let the randomness commence!