Should a vegetable garden look beautiful? For many people gardening is all about beauty and design. Garden centres and TV programmes are full of ideas for giving your garden a ‘makeover’ with all the corresponding quick-fix solutions. Buy in a semi-grown bush, add some decking, build a fully-stocked pond in an afternoon… But for vegetable gardeners the emphasis is usually more on productivity – getting the best harvest efficiently and cheaply.
I have to number myself amongst the productive gardeners – for me it’s the food I produce that justifies the effort I put in to my garden. It often seems like a lot more work to consider the aesthetics and, because many of my vegetables are grown in my front garden beside the road, you won’t find me sitting there admiring it all. So beautiful design is not high on my list of priorities. But that’s not to say that it shouldn’t be there at all.
Of course, vegetables can be very beautiful in themselves. Often, all it takes is a little tidying up and weeding to highlight the plants that are there. The huge leaves and curved stems of a sprawling squash plant, or flowering beans growing up a trellis both really add to the garden. But there are other crops that, for much of the year, look a little ragged: a half-harvested row of Brussels sprouts, or potatoes when the foliage has died back. I wish I could have that picture-perfect garden but it seems like too much time and effort.
So, I find I need a little motivation to make the garden beautiful and have come up with some solutions – things that serve a double purpose:
- Beneficial flowers: Marigold, calendula and limnanthes (poached egg plant) all brighten up the garden when interspersed amongst vegetables but also attract beneifical insects such as hoverflies which will eat aphids and other bugs. They also help to confuse other flying pests looking for long rows of produce to attack
- Long season plants: Planning ahead to make sure that there is always some rainbow chard or lush green manure in the garden means that even when many vegetables are dug up or looking straggly there are still plants that draw the eye away from the less attractive parts.
- Perennials: Rhubarb, globe artichokes or herb bushes such as rosemary all keep a garden looking productive through the seasons.
- Use of Vertical Space: Bushes (such as blackcurrants), dwarf apple trees and climbing beans save space and look great.
- Clearing Old Vegetation: The sooner it is on the compost heap, the sooner it will be rotted down and ready for enriching the soil, so it really makes sense to keep areas tidy.
- Mixing In Ornamental Plants: Not only do these brighten up the area but they can be useful habitats for ladybirds and other beneficial insects. Many ornamentals also work well in shady areas or where the soil is a bit too poor for vegetables.
- Good Planning: Of course I have to add that a good planning tool like the Garden Planner does make it easier to create a beautiful layout... but then I would say that!
I’m a long way off having that picture-perfect 'potager' garden, so popular in times gone by but a little bit of good design can add a bit of beauty to the vegetable plot without making extra work. If you have any tips on useful things that improve how the garden looks then do add them below…