Plan A Beautiful Vegetable Garden

A few simple tips to change the way you think about garden design.

By Jack Staub

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Plant a Tapestry
Once you have this marvelous pattern of multiple raised beds around you like a huge Turkish carpet, you can plant it just as you would a decorative flower border. You can select from literally thousands of kinds of vegetables, born in all corners of the globe: some nearly as old as time, others introduced yesterday, in every shape and coloration and savor imaginable. Think about height and texture and leaf form and foliage color. Think of contrast and juxtaposition and vegetables that will reward you with flowers, as well.

I suggest you begin by planting a layer of perennial softscape: a quartet of box balls or a border of boxleaf honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) to ensure evergreen interest. Then add the "upholstered" plants: the handsome brutes you can rely on all season to fill their space. Corn and tomatoes. Peppers, eggplants, and leeks. Artichokes and cardoons. Celeries and chards. Then the handsome, early-season "furniture": carrots, beets, lettuces. Kales, cabbages, and greens. And the later-season accessories, like beans, okra, squashes, and melons. Then on to the fall crops: more lettuces and brassicas and leafy greens. There is no right answer or right mix, and every year is a new opportunity to trial some winning new cultivar or combination.

Think About Trellises
Finally, many vegetables need your support, which presents yet another chance to elevate your kitchen garden beyond the merely functional. Pole beans, cucumbers, and winter squashes climb tuteurs. Tomatoes grow best with trellising or caging. Height is one of the great aesthetic opportunities of the potager, and all of these forms, from a classic bamboo tepee to an imposing central gazebo, can be visual delights while they enhance your yields by adding vertical growing space and help minimize ugly diseases. In almost every instance, you can see that if you approach essential tasks with an eye on invention and creativity, the results will be as lovely as they are practical.

5 Simple Changes
Try any of these easy alterations to your vegetable garden, and you'll add to its visual appeal. Apply them all, and your plot will be one of the highlights of next summer's garden club tour.

Think outside the rectangle. Rebuild your plots into circles, triangles, or octagons.

Frame it finely. Just as the right frame enhances a painting, attractive materials beautify your raised beds. Naturally rot-resistant cedar weathers nicely. Or consider stone or brick to enclose your planting areas.

Mix and match. Combine vegetables with flowers, herbs, and shrubs, as well as birdbaths, sundials, or your favorite decorations.

Say no to rows. Plant in patterns, and your beds become a quilt of colors, shapes, and textures.

Grow up with style. Basic stakes and cages are so prosaic. You can build a more eye-catching structure out of bamboo or look for unique uprights at estate sales and the like.

Jack Staub is the coproprietor of Hortulus Farm, a nursery and display garden in Wrightstown, Pennsylvania.

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