Topic: Today

Anatomy of a Mouthful

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Peter Martin built 3-foot-high raised wooden beds for vegetables, to minimize bending. The bonus is that they warm up early in spring, jump-starting early crops. Bush beans flop over the sides of the raised beds for easy picking and are free of ground slugs.

Raised beds are for vegetables only; flowers go into the ground beds, along with certain other vegetables.

Pair plants that can take turns and fruit sequentially.

Let perennial herbs such as tarragon, oregano, and thyme grow on the outer edges of the ground beds, where they can bask in the sun. (Be sure to select culinary versions, because creeping thyme and some oreganos may be handsome but they’re not particularly savory.)

Use decorative pergolas to shoulder pole beans rather than the usual wisteria or roses. Gardner uses strings to guide the vines as they make headway.

Lettuce, arugula, and spinach grow under the pergola, where they last longer in the cool shade.

Give members of the cabbage family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.) plenty of room to spread out. You can grow them with flowers, but these veggies will crowd them if planted too close.

Plant dwarf and semidwarf fruit trees with strong disease resistance. Smaller trees produce a smaller circle of shade, letting you plant more flowers and vegetables nearby.

Segregate nutrient-intensive vegetables such as corn, leeks, and winter squash into their own beds separate from your flowers.

Thin out the crowns of fruit trees to maximize production while minimizing the shadow they cast on their neighbors down under. Prop up branches if necessary.

Peter Martin made special tree-branch weights by pouring concrete mix into plastic yogurt containers and setting an eyehook at the top. They’re hung by twine from branches to spread limbs out and allow more sunlight below.

Selecting thornless berries, such as ‘Chester’ blackberries, lets you work among them and harvest them without battle scars. (Protect them with burlap if they’re not quite hardy in your region.) Prune ruthlessly and confine them to a frame or trellis.

Start seeds of annuals in pots rather than sowing them directly into the beds–they’ll stand a better chance of thriving when you throw them in with the crowd.

Divide perennials ruthlessly each year to keep their waistlines in check. Digging up favorites such as beebalm and dividing off running roots before replanting will put a crimp in their roving ways. Don’t plant mints in garden beds; they spread wildly.

Ornamental grasses make fine additions, as long as you divide them often. Grasses tend to be thirsty, so don’t pair them with eggplants or other veggies that require plenty of water.

Plant tulips and spring bulbs in the ground at the base of the raised beds, so their foliage can die back slowly without getting in the way of summer flowers or vegetables up above. Allowing the foliage to wither completely before removing it will ensure vibrant blooms the following year.

Don’t forget to install summer bulbs. Lilies and alliums will become lovely accents in the middles of your beds, where they can grow tall. Enjoy the bounty!

Note that various flowers, fruits, and vegetables mature at different rates over three seasons; the accompanying garden map (not to scale) is intended for representational purposes only. The garden design shown here is just one example of how one might arrange combination plantings.


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