May is the beginning of true warmth—soil and air are heated by the mid-spring sun and gardeners can plant whatever they wish to grow in the large or small space available to them.
Since 2009, interest in growing edible plants has increased. Companies like Burpee, the world’s largest seed seller, and Park Seeds of South Carolina have experienced over 20 percent growth in orders for vegetable seeds. Continued interest in organically grown foods and movements toward eating locally grown vegetables have prompted the National Gardening Association to predict a 40 percent growth in home vegetable gardens in the years ahead. Edible gardens now appear on patios, balconies, lawns, and rooftops.
If you have little space to fill with plants, Any Size, Anywhere Edible Gardening (Cool Spring Press, 2012) by William Moss guides a reader’s choices of vegetables and provides instructions on how to grow them within limited spaces. As a self-described “full-fledged urban gardener,” Moss explains how to raise edible plants from beans to potatoes, but he most interestingly devotes two entire chapters to tomatoes, the most popular vegetable plant in gardens. From these chapters, I discovered that most bush or patio tomatoes are called determinates and that the majority of their fruit ripens within a short period of time. Determinates are the best choice for sauces and for canning due to their brief but abundant harvest. Indeterminate types are the enormous plants that grow taller and wider than a tomato cage, but are productive from mid-summer through fall. This book also taught me how to cure that ugly brown rot on the bottom of my unripe tomatoes by providing more calcium and moisture to my soil.
If your goal is to produce a garden that combines beautiful flowering plants with edibles tucked among them, The Edible Landscape (Voyageur Press, 2012) by Emily Tepe is a source of inspiration. After designing an edible landscape demonstration garden at the University of Minnesota, she became interested in the techniques of growing food more attractively. In addition to basic instructions for successful gardening, she provides sample lay-outs of beds for various locations and pictures filled with vegetables planted in unusual ways. In the book’s last chapter, Tepe discloses her favorite fruits, herbs, vegetables, and ornamentals, and provides instructions on how to grow them most effectively for both beauty and for crop production.
No matter how large or small your garden, these books will improve your attempts to create more attractive beds and containers that are filled with both flowers and vegetables. For myself, this summer I plan to add tomato plants more attuned to my garden size and to include the bright green leaves of Mizuna mustard plants to beautify my borders while also adding more pizzazz to my diet.
Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants. She is a volunteer at the Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.