I would appreciate your opinion about trailing plants that could drape over the sides of my raised-bed vegetable garden.

I want to plant a potager garden this spring with colorful border plants surrounding the vegetables.

— Barb

Potager gardens are a great idea and become more and more popular as time goes on. In a nutshell, they're 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 in straight rows, although they can be done that way, but you're putting them in attractive arrangements and combinations.

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

If you want, you can 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 also is common in this type of garden. There are tomato cages to trellises to support squash or dahlias and tepees for runner beans to grow on.

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

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

One flower in particular I love is nasturtium. Their 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.  I think both of these plants are 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 basil — are commonly used for this purpose. They have the benefit of perfuming the air when you brush against them walking through the garden.

I've seen strawberries used as well because 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 then again, maybe not) but there are varieties with showy red, orange or yellow stalks.

Along those lines, consider rhubarb for the same reasons. Its bold foliage provides a surprising amount of interest to the whole arrangement.

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

I am getting excited about spring just writing about all this! 

I have a lot of violets in my yard and would like to give some to a friend. When is the best time to dig them up?

— Mary

Dig them up right away! We try to transplant most things early in the spring before they break dormancy.

Though they may be starting to wake up, they should be tough enough to handle it.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506, or email info@bookcliffgardens.com.

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