Spring garden planning

Garnish this summer's vegetable patch with pretty flowering plants.

Getting inspired

The first things visitors notice in the kitchen garden at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens & School of Horticulture in Niagara Falls, Ont., are the lush colors and wonderful assortments of plants. The fact that almost everything in the beds is edible adds a delicious dimension to this garden where vegetables, herbs and edible flowers are grown together with no distinction between what's useful and what's beautiful. Every year, the garden -- a large plot made up of four rectangular beds, each seven by 15 metres, intersected by generous pathways -- is designed and planted by a student as part of his or her practical experience. And through the growing season, flavourful produce from the garden enhances the meals of students living in residence.

When student Maxine Crawford of Simpson, Sask., planted the garden one spring, her goal was to make it visually appealing as well as productive and in this, says her faculty instructor Liz Klose, she succeeded admirably. Crawford points out that you don't have to sacrifice flowers to grow vegetables. "Annuals such as nasturtiums, marigolds and nicotianas serve as repellents or attractants to keep bugs away from vegetables," she says, "and look beautiful, giving that cottage-garden feeling of controlled chaos -- plants almost on top of each other but growing together quite compatibly." As well, nasturtiums and many types of marigolds are edible.

Klose and Crawford share tips from growing their gardening experiences to show you how to produce a vegetable bed that yields a harvest rich in garden-fresh produce and beauty.

Start with raised beds
• Beds raised at least 15 cm higher than paths are easier to plant, weed, irrigate and harvest.
• Soil in raised beds dries and warms up faster in the spring, so you can get plants off to an earlier start.
• The soil doesn't get compacted.
• Raised beds are great for small gardens since they're planted intensively in blocks, thereby eliminating wasted space between rows.
• Intensive planting means there's less opportunity for weeds to get a foothold. 
• Raised beds have improved drainage, an important consideration in a poorly drained yard.

Raised-bed primer
• A raised bed can be any length, but the width should be about 2 m for easy access from both sides.
• Construct the beds in a sunny part of the garden; mark dimensions with stakes and twine. Frame the beds with wood (cedar is the most durable) or use one of the new raised-bed kits made of recycled plastic. (Framed beds are more space-efficient thanmounded beds in which soil tapers gradually.)
• Use a digging fork or spade to turn over and break up soil within the frame; remove topsoil from the paths and use it to raise the bed. If beds are very large, get additional soil from a garden centre or landscape supplier; to increase soil fertility, add compost or well-rotted manure. Make sure everything is well mixed.
• Make paths 60 cm wide if you'll be using a wheelbarrow; for a traditional look, pave them with old bricks or concrete pavers, or cover with an 8 to 10 cm layer of gravel, straw or wood chips to keep shoes from getting muddy on wet days.
• Raised beds dry out quickly. Check often during dry spells; water if necessary. 
• Cultivate beds yearly, adding more humus (compost or manure) to replenish nutrients and help retain moisture, but keep paths permanently uncultivated.

Page 1 of 3 -- For more tips on preparing for planting, see page 2

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