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5. Plant Edibles
2010 might be the year that edibles and ornamentals finally reach an ecstatic symbiotic coexistence in the garden. Rhubarb, fennel, and asparagus have dramatic foliage habits that add spectacular visual interest to gardens, can provide screening or become a focal point in the garden. Hazelnut shrubs make a beautiful edible hedge. Wet spot problem areas make hospitable homes for elderberry and high-bush blueberry—“plants that enjoy wet feet,” says Greenberg, who also recommends mulberry to feed both humans and birds. “Chard, eggplant, peppers, or climbing beans taste great and look great,” says Lehmuller. “Interplant them with perennials and annuals. Dwarf apple or pear trees fit in almost anywhere and are easy to maintain.” Roland encourages people to grow their own fertilizer with nitrogen fixers like clover, licorice, or groundnut and interplant some aromatic pest confusers like shallots, horseradish, or bee balm. For fruits, he suggests attracting beneficial insects with fennel, yarrow, or borage and using chicory, sorrel, or chives as nutrient accumulators. A good book on companion plantings: The Rodale Book of Herbs (1974 ed.). Hardy perennial vegetables like climbing spinach, sea kale, sunchokes, water celery, profusion sorrel, and Welsh onion offer tasty yearly returns on initial investment. For detailed information on finding, planting, harvesting, and eating these plants check Eric Toensmeier’s book Perennial Vegetables (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).
Local fruit tree guru Lee Reich recommends against apple trees unless “you’re planning to spray regularly and gain some expertise in pruning.” He extols the virtues of planting blueberries: “They’re easy to grow, healthful, pretty plants and taste great. Prepare the soil to their liking with peat moss in the planting hole, pelletized sulfur for acidity, and two to three inches of wood chips, leaves, pine needles, or wood shavings as mulch.” Pawpaws, American persimmons, Cornealian cherries, pears, and medlars are some other easy-to-grow fruit trees. Plant strawberries and raspberries in spring and eat them through the fall.
6. Raise Your Beds
Channel Ruth Stout or Masanobu Fukuoka with the latest garden wisdom of no-till planting to preserve beneficial microbes within the soil, prevent erosion, and ensure the health of your back. “No de-sodding is necessary,” says Lehmuller. “Lay down layers of newspaper or cardboard and cover it with a 3-to-4-inch layer of coarse mulch to smother any thing underneath. Lay the cedar boxes on top and fill with a good quality organic soil/compost mix.” Because they drain quickly, raised beds are especially good for herbs but need careful monitoring to prevent drying out. Raised beds out of stone offer optimal drainage and aesthetic value while “building an eternal relationship with the Earth’s offspring,” says Christopher Layman at Fox Stonework. “Stone is safe, dependable, and forever beautiful.”
Some gardeners like Greenberg advise pulling up old much and yearly remulching beds because “mulch is crucial to a healthy garden, retaining moisture in the soil, and breaking down and feeding the plants. For problems with weeds, use a layer of brown paper or newspaper under the mulch to suppress the existing weedy seed bank in the soil, but don’t suffocate the existing plants. Put newspaper around them and spread the mulch on top to cover. Avoid commercial landscaping cloth; weeds love to grow on top of it and it blocks decomposing mulch from enriching the soil.” Other professional gardeners, Bellar among them, consider yearly remulching overkill and avoid the practice; however, he admits that in some cases “you may need to add mulch but wait until all of the perennials are showing to not make it more difficult for them.” Wood-chip or other moisture-retaining mulch is detrimental rather than beneficial to heat-loving plants like lavender or tomatoes or peppers. Mulch with light colored pea gravel, small crushed stone, or sand instead to trap and reflect heat. Adventurous? Try new mulches like licorice root mulch, sold as Right Dress Garden Mulch. More self-reliant and thrifty? Use straw or grass clippings from your own lawn or meadow, or check with your local municipality for free wood-chip mulch.