HG: Homegrown Column January 03, 2009

I would appreciate your opinion on trailing plants that would drape over the sides of my raised bed vegetable garden. I’m looking to plant a potager garden this spring with colorful border plants surrounding vegetables.
— Barb

Potager gardens are becoming more and more popular, though most folks don’t know what they are.

In a nutshell, they’re just an ornamental vegetable garden. They’re primarily a kitchen garden with flowers mixed in for beauty.

The goal is to make providing food aesthetically pleasing. You’re not necessarily arranging plants out in straight rows, though they can be done that way, but putting them in attractive arrangements and combinations. Instead of hiding the vegetable garden around in the side yard, a potager garden is meant to be an integral part of a beautiful yard.

A potager garden is divided into separate beds which are usually slightly raised, though they don’t have to be. The original ones in France were usually formal in design with geometric shapes, but today people do just about anything that pleases them.

You want to leave walkways between the beds for access and perhaps even a larger spot for a chair or two to sit and enjoy the environment.

A potager garden is usually intensive in nature, that is, there are a lot of different plants jammed into a relatively small space. For this reason, doing an exceptional job preparing the soil before planting is the place to start.

Training plants vertically is also common in this type of garden. From tomato cages to trellises to support squash or dahlias to teepees for runner beans to grow on. I’ve even seen old step ladders recycled into a potager garden.

Most potager gardens I’ve seen haven’t had trailing type plants along the edges. They’re usually bordered with short, mounding plants.

For flowers, people usually use any low-growing ones such as petunia, alyssum, dwarf snapdragon, marigold, moss rose, and zinnia.

One flower in particular I love is nasturtium. Its bright yellow and orange flowers look so good; the foliage is a great textural contrast, plus the flowers are edible. Calendulas are edible as well and would do a good job, though I think they’re happier with a bit of shade in the afternoon. And, of course, pansies would do a great job, but I don’t think they’ll be happy in the sun during the summer.

Herbs such as oregano, compact lavender, parsley, sage, tarragon and compact basil (I especially love the purple leaved ones) are commonly used for this purpose. They also have the benefit of perfuming the air when you brush against them while walking through the garden.

I’ve seen strawberries used as well, and they make a beautiful ground cover besides the obvious benefit of growing strawberries.

Try to think “outside the box” when planting. Use colorful or boldly textured foliage where you can.

If you’re planning on planting cabbage, consider planting red-leaved varieties. Swiss chard may be a bit tall for the border , but there are varieties with showy red, orange or yellow stalks.

Along those lines, think about rhubarb for the same reasons. Its bold foliage also provides a surprisingly amount of interest to the whole arrangement.

At the opposite end of the textural spectrum, chives and ornamental grasses are wonderful.

I’m getting excited about spring just writing to you about all this.

With the snow we’ve had recently, I’m wondering if I still need to water all my trees and shrubs?
— Don

Well, that depends upon how much snow we get through the rest of the season.

You don’t need to be worrying about water right now, but that can change later on.

Generally, we don’t get much moisture from snow cover here in the Grand Valley. The problem is that we get a good layer of snow and then the sun starts to melt it away.

What melts from the bottom certainly adds moisture to our soil, but the majority of the snow actually vaporizes directly into the atmosphere.

If we continued to have storms that kept the ground covered every couple of weeks, we probably wouldn’t need to water because it also acts like a mulch covering the ground and helps cut down on water loss.

Unfortunately, the snow doesn’t usually last long enough for us to completely stop our watering. It does, however, enable us to lengthen the intervals between watering.

If, for example, you normally water every three to four weeks, you might be able to push that to five to six or even eight weeks. 

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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