Thursday, October 1, 2009

thinking about design at the end of the season

Loved this combo of peppers, sage, signet marigolds and deep pink petunias.
First and foremost I am not a landscape designer. Having admitted that I trust you will take the following suggestions with a grain of salt. I have a background in scenery and graphic design, so I have a pretty good sense of design concepts. Many of these apply to most areas of design, from theater to web design, landscapes to interiors (although looking around my office you'd never know it). I don't mean to step on the toes of any landscape designers with this post, so I will tread carefully.

A colorful and 'texture-full' combo of chard, zinnia, dill, thyme, rudbeckia,
snapdragons, and raspberries. All backed by teepees supporting beans
and other climbers. What you see here in the foreground is packed into a
space about 6 feet wide. See what you can fit in a relatively small space?
I approached the design of the Edible Landscape from the position of a homeowner who has some sense of colors, forms and textures and how they work together. But of course it can't stop there when designing with plants. I also spent a lot of time in choosing my plants based on plants I like to eat; their size, color and habit; their required growing conditions; bloom time; and so on. Chances are, if you're planning to plant a few edibles here and there in your garden you're not going to hire a landscape designer. But you will want those plants to look as good as they can. Afterall, that's the whole point of this edible landscaping thing, right? Early on in this blog, I provided a few pointers, and recommended some books for guidelines and inspiration when planning and designing your edible landscape. These will help you if you are starting from scratch, or if you just want to add a few things here and there in your existing landscape. Click on the keywords "design" and "planning" on the right to find these posts.

Peppers and lavender petunias created a
great combo.
Now that we're getting near the end of the season I've been mulling over the choices I made and spending time in the garden determining which choices worked and which didn't work so well. In the next few posts, I'm going to describe some of these along with photos and simple sketches of plant combinations.

To start out, here's a list of some things that worked well in the Edible Landscape this year:
  • Lavender interplanted with garlic chives: textures worked well together (spikes of lavender among the umbels of the garlic chive), great fragrances, nice colors, lots of bees!
  • Lavender on the edge or corner of a bed means that every time you brush past it the air is filled with wonderful fragrance!
  • Alyssum interplanted with thyme: alternating clumps of each made for a fragrant and attractive border.
  • Various basils planted in masses behind chives. This looked really neat, the spikey chives along the edge of the bed were backed by tall and sturdy basil. I liked the contrasting textures.
  • Mint in pots scattered through the garden worked great. Added a little structure and height, and kept the mint from becoming invasive. Pots placed strategically in the garden can add a really nice touch. Look for interesting shapes and colors.
  • Mizuna mustard was great as a border. It's fringy leaves arched over the edge of the bed, softening it with an exotic touch.
  • Peppers, sage, and small-flowered trailing petunias made a great combo. I liked the contrast of the cool silver sage in front of the dark green shiny leaves and fruits of the pepper. The petunias rambled among the sage and peppers, and the coral color I used really popped.
  • Parsley made a great, hearty border interplanted with dark blue petunias. The parsley gets really dense and the petunias pop their blossoms up through, which looks really striking.
  • Strawberries planted under eggplant. The strawberries will be done fruiting by the time the eggplant gets big and bushy. When it's eggplant's time to shine, the strawberry plants send their runners out and create a lush carpet underneath.
A wide variety of color, height and texture packed into a
small space lends a cottage garden feel. 
Now for a few things that didn't work as I used them...
I don't love this combo of nicotiana,
nasturtium and signet marigolds. The leaves
have contrast of shape, texture, but
they don't really help each other pop. Lots of
green but not much else.
  • Nasturtium and peppers. Depending on what type of Nasturtium you plant, it may end up dwarfing the peppers and trying to knock them down. That's what it did here. The plants didn't look that great together either.
  • Borage. Ok, more specifically TONS of borage. I went a little crazy with the borage because it was new to me. I planted it in masses in the center of beds, and didn't thin very much. It was great early in the season. 1-2 foot tall mounds of the fuzzy stems put forth beautiful blue flowers which attracted bees like crazy. But by late-July the plants were so tall and heavy they flopped over all their neighbors. Borage is really nice, but use it in moderation and along with very sturdy plants.
  • Sunflowers should be kept in the back of a planting where they'll be appreciated for their height. I scattered them in masses among squash vines in a star-shaped bed with a giant sculpture in the middle of it. It didn't work so well. Keep 'em in the back where they can peek their showy heads over all the other garden residents.
Maybe a little too much going on here. Not very well planned.