A Glorious Jumble of a Jungle
Growing Herbs, Flowers and Vegetables all in one edible jungle!
Until recently, I did not realize I had a “style” of gardening …
My research on the history of English Cottage gardens was mainly to add some lightness to the mission of growing your own vegetables. Getting those carrots or peas or potatoes onto your table is the destination, yet it was important to me to share the possibilities of pleasure in the gardening journey to get there. I wanted to add in the fine art of herbs, flowers and vegetables happily “cohabitating” in a glorious jumble~ by August you will truly have an edible jungle!
And it all starts now…
I loved the potential of shaking flat little grey seeds into the palm of my hand this week, tucking them into a soft bed of a starter mix, adding water…light…a little heat and within 2 weeks I will have tiny bunny ears of green leaves that are the first stage for this life to morph into a vibrant Tomato plant with passionate red fruit to feed me! The next striped beetle-like seeds have the potential to transform into a six foot Sunflower “trees”, and lastly those wrinkled hard green pellets will become tender sweet green Peas…The miracle unfolds with each seed personality I plant. I can almost taste them, even at this the beginning of their growing journey. And that is how you will get hooked to tend and tease these funny looking seeds into becoming your tasty dinner later! It is quite amazing too as to just how soon you can be eating the first of your crops from seeding now.
Have you bought any seeds yet?
Seed catalogues are great temptresses with their colour photos, yet I must give them their due: they can be a wealth of information for your success. Good companies will provide all the help they can cram on a seed package for your success and still fit on a photo! Look for the shortest amount of days for heat lovers like Tomatoes, Corn and Squash in our cooler coastal climate. These are also the vegetables that are easily purchased as sturdy little starts if you do not have the right conditions to start them ahead of the outside planting season of late May. On the plus side, our coastal climate allows us to get an early start on all those cool tolerant veggies like Spinach, Swiss chard, Lettuce, Broccoli, Cauliflower and snap or shelling Peas …Start these veggies now~ not forgetting some fragrant Sweet peas to simply bury our noses in! As the light and temperatures increase, more and more seeds can be started.
Here is where the jumble starts: seed your cold tolerant annual herbs now too. Try Arugula, Parsley, Coriander or Cilantro which ever you call it…Dill was my most reluctant to poke its head through but I can understand with this years lack of any real warmth yet~ it loves heat! Try just a pinch from each package and then if they fail: try again in two weeks as the season only improves as it moves on…This way you start inter-planting your veggies and herbs from the start. Add Sweet Basil to your beds in the same timing as your Tomato plants. (Think of all your dinners where you add Basil to your Tomato dishes?) When you think of it this way, it will become second nature to plant everybody together in your garden to end up on your dinner plate again~ together!
The third element is to keep your bees and bugs in a happy balance by adding flowers that possibly you “eat” only with your eyes and nose yet adds health and beauty to your veggie plot. Bees especially love simple open faced flowers; pollen and nectar for them…at the same time pollination of our veggies for us. My jumble would be bare without the basics of sunny Calendula flowers, sassy hot coloured Nasturtiums, blue Cornflowers or Borage plus red, white or pink spicy scented annual Clove Dianthus: all edible petals for us humans! Then I get carried away with the jungle theme and pop in some outrageous non-edible tall Cannas for company with the Sunflowers or Gladiola or Zinnias or Dahlias and my garden runs away with me again… By August I can feel like a child again hunting in a garden taller than me!
Every week I dip into my seed tin~ what next?! Sweet Marjoram and Sweet Corn, Summer Savory with Snap Beans or Pole Beans, feathery Carrots and ferny Dill…oops: it almost sounds like a menu again! Some seed varieties are saved for direct seeding as they do not need the fuss or do not tolerate transplanting…Carrots, Beets, Beans, Corn are all easy to direct seed by that magical Victoriana May 24th weekend. Then for that jungle touch, I drag out those tubs of Cannas from under the bench & see if they are waking up? Check my boxes of Dahlias, Potato tubers too. It will be time soon to make a new map of my basic veggie/herb/flower groupings to rotate them from last years map but I will savour that also in May.
April is all about possibilities and poking around to find the first shoots of perennial mint or chives. We humans tend to count only the whole warm or dry days, I swear Chives counts the moments and grabs each one~ the weeds too! I keep my perennial herbs like Sage, Rosemary or Thyme, around the borders of my veggie plantings or even in the flower beds where they do not get disturbed every year by cultivation. These ones are also much slower to mature from seed and are best bought as starts so you can harvest them the first year after planting.
All my annual herbs go in the veggie patch, direct seeded or transplanted. This includes herbs for tea as well as cooking like German Chamomile whose secret is to broadcast on the top of the soil and not be covered. (When you see just how tiny the seeds are, you can understand why they don’t like being covered with soil.) I treat tender Anise Hyssop as another herb tea annual, plus Lemon Grass so easily started from single stem cuttings from the grocery store… If Sweet Basil has been a fuss for you in the past, try African Blue Basil starts…although they sound even more finicky with their name, they are my first Basils set out and the last ones to succumb to autumn frosts!
So look over your veggie patch, build some raised box beds while it is early in the season, dabble with a few cool weather seeds… April holds those last moments when you can just sit back inside to look at the possibilities while it is cold and wet and not so inviting outside…Baby seedlings perhaps for company on your window sills.
Spring madness will be on us soon enough and the race will be on!
PS Send me a few lines of why you love your mad veggie patch & you could win my flying pink pig: no house required!
Send your entries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published in the April 2009 edition of the Metchosin Muse