June 2018

 You can have so much fun playing with geometric shapes, figuring out how to blend form and function in hardscape and plantings. Design possibilities are endless. Work a checkerboard of pavers into the edge of your patio with herbs in the alternating soil squares. The pavers form the stepping stones through your herb garden for easy access.

Close proximity is important for many reasons. Besides the ease of harvest, seeing changes daily is entertaining and helps you keep an eye on the plants’ needs. Objects like ladders or wheels can be placed flat and then planted with various herbs.

A simple four-square garden bisected with pathways creates small, organized spaces for the plants as well as convenient work space around them. Plant a circle of chives and place a bee skep on a pedestal as a focal point in the center to channel Colonial
Williamsburg, or repurpose a fun found object from a thrift store as a sculptural attraction.

A long, rectangular bed like the one at right is easy to fit near any patio or deck. Poll your family and prioritize their favorites. Staples of my family’s kitchen garden include tomatoes and squash. My grandchildren want at least one of our tomato plants to be cherry tomatoes. We keep plastic bowls at the ready and eat most of our pickings on the spot like popcorn.

Children love root crops, so do try to include carrots or beets or potatoes. It might also be fun to include Virginia peanuts (which would do best if started indoors), onions or garlic. When planted in a raised bed, these foods are easy to harvest, and kids love to see what is unearthed. Besides watching cucumbers grow, we enjoy pickling projects, so canning is a great byproduct recreation.

Prepping the bed before planting is very important. Determine the pH of the soil. Vegetables prefer soil with a pH of 6.0-7.5. Improve and amend your soil with well rotted manure and compost. Raised beds are ideal. They drain well, make the garden orderly, and can be filled with the best soil.

Lay out the design of the bed. You can frame raised beds with wood, brick or pavers. Once you have established the design, dig out a few inches of the bed space, loosening the existing soil. Then fill in with organic matter. This should give you a deep, loose, healthy soil.

Pathways in the potager can be any material — mulch, brick, pavers, grass, gravel or stone. We chose oyster shells because they are native to the East Coast of Virginia, and we like the stark-white element in our design. Remember that plants grow and may spill out onto pathways, so allow enough width when planning your path. You may want to put picket fencing along the front side of the garden, lined with rabbit wire, to form more of an enclosure if you have bold deer. You may want to have your dog stand guard.

When you get experienced with vegetable gardening, try double cropping. Plant cool weather vegetables such as English peas March 1, and so have an early harvest of this delectable dish. St. Patty’s Day is a good time to remember potato planting for “Yukon Gold” or a tasty old variety, “Irish Cobbler,” if you can find it; by the 4th of July,  they will be ready to dig.

Other cool-weather plants such as broccoli and cabbages can also be planted earlier. Cloches, little bell-shaped greenhouses, are classic accessories to help individual plants get an early start on the season. When a cool-weather crop has been harvested, plant warm weather veggies or put pots of herbs in their places to cover the bare spots.

Cost-saving herbs and veggies will have you snapping Instagram-worthy foodie pictures most of the year. You can be the lord of your own farm-to-table domain right there in one locale.