garden compositions – purpose driven plants

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garden compositions – the purpose driven plants

What on earth are your plants here for?

“Mommy, I want to grow my own begatubulls!” One of the four year old twins of my co-worker, Yelena Petruk, is trying very hard to talk his momma into dedicating a piece of their beautifully landscaped yard into growing tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, beans, and a number of other edible goodies.

Listening to his earnest pleas, I am reminded that this is not just the longing of a veggie loving four-year old. A growing number of people are looking to plant more with a purpose in their landscapes to provide a food source other than the soaring grocery store prices. But there’s no need to completely sacrifice garden beauty for a patch of purposeful peas or peppers.

start out small

Many new vegetable gardeners are lured by visions of neatly lined rows on a half acre lot where scarcely a weed can be found. The reality is that all gardens do take some work so don’t take on more than you can handle throughout the summer. If you are short on space, many vegetables do well in containers if you have a sunny spot for them. Make sure you have a container at least 18-in. wide and deep with a drainage hole, good soil (I like Monrovia Container Soil or Fafard Complete Container Mix), at least 8 hours of sunlight, and a handy water source. Remember to throw in a handful of slow release
fertilizer before planting, but also use a liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season.

Tomatoes, peppers, herbs, lettuce, spinach, strawberries, and even peas, if you have a trellis, will make themselves at home in a container. You can add some trailing calibrachoa or scaevola or other flowering annuals to dress up the container. Herb pots filled with Thai basil, rosemary, and lemon thyme or any other assortment of herbs make a lovely foliage display with intermittent flowers.

Another idea is to make a small raised bed (4-ft. x 6-ft.) out of railroad ties and fill it with good soil. Line the bottom of the bed with several layers of newspaper or with landscaping fabric to help suppress weeds before adding soil. In the past many homes had “knot gardens” or “parterres”—a formal patterned garden edged with boxwood or rosemary where herbs and vegetables were grown. A good reference about knot gardens is The Art of the Kitchen Garden, by Jan and Michael Gertley (The Taunton Press, www. It is filled with ideas for using annuals and garden vegetables in designs that mimic the form of the parterre. If you will be planting directly into your yard, I recommend getting your soil tested by your local  extension service.

This year I’m experimenting with what I’m calling soil sausages.  Landscaping fabric is sewn along the edges lengthwise; the one open end is staked into the ground with fabric staples. The fabric tube is then filled with good potting soil, then laid on the ground and the other end is stapled down. I cut 2-in. Xs into the top of the fabric and plant my seeds or seedlings in the X and keep them watered. It may not be the prettiest sight, but it makes planting on just about any site possible and virtually weed free.

seeds of success

The most economical way to grow veggies is to start with seed. Park Seed Company ( and Burpee Seed ( have catalogs that I spend hours pouring over to evaluate all the possibilities for my garden. But Bonnie Plants has come up with the most gardener-friendly product. The company offers young seedlings in biodegradable peat and fiber pots that can be planted directly into a garden or container. These “plantable pots” biodegrade into the soil, reducing any transplant stress. Bonnie Plants also has a great web site with tons of helpful hints for new and experienced gardeners at

Some facts that I’ve heard thrown around about garden savings is that for every $100 a homeowner spends on their vegetable garden, they receive $1,000 – $1,700 return in produce (Green Earth Media Group). Home Depot, Lowe’s, and your local extension service have several vegetable gardening clinics scheduled this spring to help guide you through the finer details. On April 3-5 there will also be gardening seminars at the Bloom n’ Garden Expo at the Williamson County Expo Center. I will be giving “soil sausage” gardening demonstrations at both the Bloom n’ Garden Show and at the Spring Market at Westhaven (on Hwy. 96 West) on May 2.

Editor’s Note: Barbara Wise, a horticulturist with Southern Land Company, brings her gardening expertise and experience to readers of House & Home & Garden™.  E-mail your questions to her at

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