Tips for planting an urban potager
Master Gardener Elizabeth Stewart spends the winter planning her entire garden, including her square-foot beds, selecting vegetables with attractive fruit, foliage and flowers. Many are heirloom varieties that taste as good as they look. Here’s her advice on creating an ornamental kitchen garden.
- Look at English and French potager gardens for inspiration: Elizabeth chose a simple design of six raised beds.
- You can’t make a mistake in a square: make a grid with pushpins and string in each bed, subdividing the space into 16 one-foot-by-one-foot sections. Then, think of each bed as a quilt: make a pattern as simple as a checkerboard, for example, using lettuces in a combination of four different colours.
- Incorporate the colour of flowers, fruit and foliage into the design.
- Mix in a variety of annuals such as nasturtiums, pot marigolds and tall orange cosmos.
- Chances are, your garden won’t be the same size as your mother’s, so instead of growing shell peas, select sugar snap and snow peas, which have a greater yield, and are available in both space-saving dwarf varieties and self-supporting types, which cuts down on the number of stakes needed.
In space-hungry city plots, growing vegetables in containers makes sense (Elizabeth Stewart grows potatoes in buckets, for example). Here are some tips for potting up veggies.
- As long as it has drainage holes, almost anything can be used as a planter, from barrels to window boxes. However, avoid containers coated with a preservative or that have held toxic substances.
- Use a good commercial soil mix supplemented with compost or composted manure in a 3:1 ratio.
- When growing veggies on a balcony or rooftop, use a lightweight soilless mix and lightweight pots.
- Select dwarf and compact varieties that won’t outgrow the container, and include vines such as pole beans and cucumbers that can be trained up trellises and teepees.
- Fertilize with a solution of liquid seaweed at planting time; during the season, feed plants with compost tea. (To make tea, suspend a cloth bag containing one part compost or composted manure into a pail with five to eight parts water. After one day, the water will turn dark brown; dilute to the colour of weak tea before using.)
—with files from Heather Apple