Jim Hillibish’s Greenspace column.
I talk to a lot of folks who would “love to have a vegetable garden but don’t have the space.”
My mother-in-law is in the same boat. Burma used to have a veggie plot behind her next-door shopping plaza, but the urban deer took care of that.
She has shrubbery around her house and her nearby ice-cream shop. That offers a chance to grow vegetables.
She “interplants.” This concept is popular in Europe: Grow your vegetables amid your shrubs.
“I’ve got everything mixed up, just like grandma’s garden, whatever suits my fancy,” she says.
Burma’s tomatoes ripen early. She planted them in April next to her house.
The house stores warmth and protects them from frost.
Interplanting is good even for those with gardens. You can vastly expand your production by growing certain plants among others.
Not for Everyone
Not all plants like this. It’s difficult to interplant with varieties that take a lot of space, such as large peppers, squash, cabbage and broccoli.
These are heavy feeders and need room to spread.
Good candidates are bush cucumbers and beans, beets, onions and herbs of most types (especially dill and parsley). Any vegetable that grows compactly probably will do well interplanted with non-veggies.
The idea works with another concept, the vertical garden. This scheme takes advantage of that unused space above smaller plants. I grow vine cukes on tomato cages amid my dill, basil and horseradish patch, all in a 4-by-8-foot space. You’ll never see that recommended in a seed catalog, but it works.
Be Sure to Prepare
You can’t get away with this without some preparation. Close planting requires great soil, full of compost and manure. You’ve got to keep the weeds at bay or they will consume nutrients and scarce water.
Watering is crucial. All plants siphon vast amounts of it out of the soil.
You’d be surprised how quickly the soil dries after a rain when the plants are packed together. This is why each plant has a recommended planting distance, some more than a foot apart.
So water deeply and often if you try this. Best time is in the morning, to avoid another problem of close planting. Soggy plants overnight can develop a number of diseases, mostly of the fungal variety.
Mulching your interplanted bed is a must. I use a 2-inch layer of straw.
This saves water by preventing evaporation and cuts the weeding down to almost nothing.
Interplanting creates a nice-looking display. Those ripe tomatoes and waxy cukes amid their yellow flowers are every bit as pretty as pansies and marigolds, and they taste a lot better.
In fact, French marigolds are beneficial to all, as they drive away harmful soil worms.
One front-yard trend is to plant decorative kale among shrubs for a splash of color that lasts well into the fall. Another trick is to grow small, hot pepper plants with bright orange and red fruits in a flower display, such as cherry and habanero varieties.
Burma loves gardening and eating fresh vegetables. She not going to let a herd of deer stop her. Plus, everything’s right outside her door. So is her dairy bar, lucky girl.