Karen Atkins owns Proper Gardens, a garden design and installation firm in Pittsburgh, Pa. She writes, designs and gardens from her 150-year-old farm in Western Pennsylvania she shares with her husband and two children. Visit www.propergardens.com for more info.

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Give Your Vegetable Garden a Makeover
by Karen Atkins       #Ornamentals   #Vegetables

Left: Fence the garden in permanently. Most vegetable gardens are small enough that you need to set less than a dozen posts. Doing this once is easier than struggling with marauding rabbits and temporary fencing year after year. Middle: I compelled my children to let me relocate their play house as a focal point for a new vegetable garden. The best site for a proper vegetable garden is in full sun, as close as possible to the kitchen. Level the area for raised beds, and allow room to push a wheelbarrow when planning pathways. Right: Add accents to your garden. Here, cast iron rabbit finials add interest.


Plants themselves can be ornamental. Why grow regular dark green kale when you could instead grow ‘Rainbow’ kale?


Tomatoes don’t have to be fastened to wooden stakes in rows. Here a circular tuteur supports tomatoes “tied” by ‘Grandpa Ott’ morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea ‘Grandpa Ott’).


A National Gardening Association survey calculated that 25 percent of all U.S. households had vegetable gardens in 2011. Now more and more of us know what goes into and onto our food. These gardens give us so much. Is it greedy then to ask that the gardens also be pretty?

Of course not. Americans have had gorgeous vegetable gardens ever since Colonial times. A tour of the John Blair garden in Colonial Williamsburg will convince you of this, and provides many lessons. Since early Americans could not survive without homegrown produce, they invested a little more time in the beginning just setting them up properly. Where we typically banish vegetable gardens to some sunny corner of the yard, colonists put them in a prominent place, usually as close as possible to the kitchen. Rather than just tilling up a patch of dirt with no regard to slope, they completely leveled the area and built raised beds to permit proper drainage and soil cultivation. And these beds were not just simple squares thrown together with no further thought. There was a pleasing symmetry to the designs of the beds and the pathways. Ornamentals were tucked in between fruits and vegetables.

Espalier is just a fancy word for training. I’m coaxing this apple tree into a candelabra shape.

It was during the rush to establish Victory Gardens after World War II that we lost our way. It was admirable to want the commercially farmed and canned produce to go to the troops. But it was then, in our hurry to establish these utilitarian gardens, that we stopped requiring our vegetable gardens to also be beautiful. Now that’s a trend worth reversing.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Karen Atkins and The National Garden Bureau.


Posted: 03/07/17   RSS | Print


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