How to make your edible garden look as good as your homegrown veg taste
Eight effective design and planting ideas from gardening guru Jane Griffiths
Don't be misled by the old-fashioned notion that a vegetable garden is somehow the boring poor cousin of the flower garden. A vegetable garden - no matter what size - can be as beautiful as a garden full of flowers. If we treat our vegetable garden as an artistic canvas, it becomes the place where we find sustenance for our body and our soul.
There are many ways we can bring creative magic into a vegetable garden, starting with the design. By using smaller beds and no-dig gardening we can forget about traditional rows and experiment with designs that reflect our personality.
By adding artistic details, it becomes a beautiful ornamental and practical garden.
Try these ideas:
1. STRUCTURAL BEAUTY
Archways, tripods and trellises. These vertical structures add height and interest, plus provide support for vegetables, maximising your space. There are many choices, from wood and metal to bamboo and willow fronds. You can personalise them when you make your own - especially if you recycle something. I have used abandoned bicycle wheels and old pool netting to great effect.
2. RAISED-BEDS EDGING
There are endless options to make these a creative feature rather than just functional. Use upside down wine bottles (plants will grow inside them), recycled brightly painted cans, moss-covered logs or broken crockery. Or use bricks with holes in them and plant herbs and strawberries into these.
Turn your pathway into a feature by using flowing pebble-mosaic patterns, natural wooden discs in gravel or geometric stone slabs interplanted with pennyroyal.
Add an interesting gate or doorway to your vegetable garden, inviting visitors to look inside. Use an archway or pergola over the gate and plant roses or jasmine (the flowers of these are edible).
5. FOCAL POINTS
Introduce sculptures, art works and mirrors to create interesting effects. These can include practical choices such as a water feature or a comfy seat to sit and enjoy the garden.
6. LIVING WALLS AND FENCES
Train fruit trees to grow up against walls or as fences, providing dividers as well as delicious fruit.
7. PLANT BEAUTIFUL, AND HEALTHY, VARIETY
What we plant also adds to the beauty of the vegetable garden.
Choosing a wide variety of interesting vegetables, with vibrant colours and textures, interspersed with scented herbs and edible flowers, will result in healthy - and beautiful - diversity. This encourages beneficial insects and protects our plants against disease and pests.
A cabbage moth, for example, is looking for the distinctive shape of a cabbage. If you plant nasturtiums in between your cabbages, their big, round leaves create a camouflage, confusing the moths and preventing them from becoming a problem.
Likewise, if you mix a variety of vegetables from different families in one bed, the chances of disease wiping them all out are minimised - you might lose one or two plants but not the whole bed, as the disease won't affect all of them.
And the variety is healthy for us too. Numerous pigments create the different colours in plants, each providing a range of health benefits. The more diversity we plant and harvest, the wider the range of nutrients we eat.
8. ADD EDIBLE COLOUR
- In addition to classic Swiss chard, with thick white stems and dark green crinkled leaves, grow varieties with vibrant red, orange, pink and yellow stems. These vivid colours continue up into the veins, contrasting with the bright green to bronze-coloured leaves. They add wonderful pops of colour to the vegetable garden, and are particularly good grown in containers or small gardens where you are combining vegetables with your flowers.
- Instead of growing only white cauliflower or green broccoli, include a selection of interesting varieties with orange, purple or spiralled green heads.
- Add yellow and purple beans and include climbing varieties with red and white flowers, purple leaves and speckled pods.
- Although we are most familiar with the glossy, purple, egg-shaped fruit, eggplant comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours, including yellow, red, lilac-striped, long purple and small, round, white varieties.
- Cabbages range from curly-leafed varieties to purple and red.
- Chillies add vibrant hues with shiny purple, orange, yellow and red fruit.
- Squash come in a wide range of colours and shapes, from yellow and green patty pans to stripy zucchini.
- Plant mixed lettuces with frilly red and fresh green leaves.
- Add bright colour with edible flowers: Californian poppy, cornflowers, roses, nasturtium, calendula, pansies and dianthus.
- Asian greens, with rich red mustard leaves, crisp green and white bok choy and spiky purple or green mizuna, provide a range of colour and textures.
• Griffiths is the author of four popular vegetable gardening books, the latest being 'Jane's Delicious A-Z Of Herbs'. Visit janesdeliciousshop.co.za