Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Creating an attractive vegetable garden

I was totally bemused this morning listening to an episode (via podcast) of Ken Druse Real Dirt. Druse is a fabulous garden writer, photographer, and excellent plant person. His books about natural habitat gardening were some of the early celebratory books about the beauty found in native plants.

But he's never been a vegetable gardener to any great degree, nor had his guest on this podcast, Susan Harris, one of the bloggers on Garden Rant, a gardening coach, and a sustainable gardener.

Their conversation was excellent, touting the pluses of Michelle Obama's White House vegetable garden, and the People's Garden (a new, and expansive vegetable garden) next to the USDA building in Washington, DC, followed by a discussion about the extensive native and sustainable gardens planned to surround the USDA building. (I was an intern at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum almost thirty years ago and remember it then, as it has appeared on all my subsequent visits as a dreadfully depauperant landscape of scruffy lawn). Maybe there was a shrub or two, but basically it was pretty lame for our Dept. of Agriculture. So kudos for Secretary Vilsac for getting something different!)

But what amazed me was their discussion about whether a vegetable garden can be attractive. They did talk about Chanticleer, which apparently now has a wonderfully interesting vegetable garden.

I'm a great fan of our natural landscape plantings, but I'm also extremely fond of my vegetable garden, and I think it looks pretty darn nice year-round even in the middle of winter when it's only Tuscan kale, winter bor kale, and red bor kale, punctuated by garlic shoots.

Now admittedly, I live in Zone 7B, but really? Their excuse was that Rosalind Creasy, the wonderful gardener who started the Edible Landscape trend in the U.S. over 20 years ago lives in Southern California. (Her book Cooking from the Garden, was one of my early inspirations, way before I was a serious gardener, vegetable or otherwise; I guess I was a cook before I was a 'real' gardener).

Ken lives in Southern N.J. and Susan outside of Washington, D.C. There is no reason that a three-season vegetable garden in either of those places wouldn't look perfectly nice, at least if it's laid out attractively (not mini-farm rows, although those are good-looking, too, in summer).

I spent the morning volunteering in the kitchen garden next to our visitor center (at the botanical garden where I work). We've converted it to a four-season vegetable garden. It's lovely right now.


  1. I look forward to seeing your botanical garden one day soon. One of the most attractive gardens I have seen is at Monticello..the veggie garden.

  2. I am going to have to listen to the podcast...I've seen gardens here in zone 6b/7a that are good looking and productive...and if folks are wondering both the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Chicago Botanical Garden have great looking vegetable display gardens....If memory serves me, both have 4 season interest with espaliered plantings and hardscape. Gail

  3. There are SO many lovely vegetable gardens, even in 'cold' climates.... it does seem to me that there's no reason just to plant rows of veggies in a home garden!

  4. Absolutely! My edible front yard looks fabulous, though I will probably be re-doing the wooden raised bed, i found it difficult to manage (need less depth). I am looking forward to seeing how well I can extend my edibles year round or at least 3 seasons.


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