To the chagrin of our college age sons who don’t enjoy change on the home front, we have just taken out an overgrown crab apple tree and added another bed to the vegetable garden. This means there is less lawn (a good thing), less room to kick a soccer ball (a good thing from my point of view, a bad thing from theirs), no place to hang the hammock (a very bad thing though neither of them will be here this summer to lie in it), and much more sun-kissed ground in which to plant additional vegetables (a very good thing).
The new bed is an in-ground bed (as opposed to the six raised beds built over a former driveway). I will fill it with ingredients for soup: potatoes, carrots, leeks, parsnips, tomatoes, onions and butternut squash (my other soup ingredients are already in the raised beds: garlic, more onions, spinach, beets, celery, peas, sorrel, parsley, oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, parsley and bay).
We started working on the new bed by watching. No kidding. Once the crab apple came down, and the trees around the edges of the property started leafing out, we watched the progress of sun and shade across the lawn over the course of a week. There is no point in going to the trouble of putting in a new bed if it isn’t going to get enough light. After all, what do plants need to grow? A patch of healthy soil (there’s a topic for another column), good light, and water. Is there a place in your yard, in the front of the house, out back, in the side yard, where this trio of necessities exists?
In a small yard like mine, where the cast shadows from the house, the studio, the neighbor’s trees, and the hedges for privacy have their say, the movement of light and shade bears watching (my art students will be familiar with this since when I look at a subject, whether it be a portrait, a still life, or a landscape, I am most interested in the movement of light and shade).
Let’s face it: it is all about light.
When planning a garden, it makes sense to think about what it is you enjoy eating and therefore what it is that you literally wish to get from your garden. Do you yearn simply for fresh salads/greens that you can pick the minute before you eat? Or fresh tomatoes? A cutting garden for flowers? Edible flowers? A juice garden, such as the one Barbara wrote about? An herb garden? Or do you have enough room to plant it ALL?
My new bed is going to be a soup garden for several reasons: I have never had enough room to grow potatoes before. And potatoes will do well in a “sod garden” where we’ve rototilled several times, added soil with lots of compost and then turned it all over again. I do not have room in my raised beds for the spreading nature of butternut squash vines (even though I have grown them and the vines have eventually choked the paths where the stones are warm and fruit ripens quickly). And frankly, I just want more. Mine might be a small yard, covered primarily by a house and painting studio, but I can still fill a root cellar with homegrown organic produce, make healthy soups in the winter, and that makes me happy.