During the first summer in our current home, we invited a realtor friend over for a glass of wine outside, the same friend that had sold us our fixer-upper. Cathy saw for herself the dramatic transformation our home and backyard had been through, including the addition of the large fenced vegetable garden. The vegetable garden occupies what used to be a vast carpet of manicured green lawn right next to our sparkling blue pool.
Cathy commented that ours was the first vegetable garden she thought was pretty. She admitted that most of the time, she thought food gardens were eyesores in otherwise nice-looking yards. I also used to think vegetable gardens were kind of ugly. I’ll bet that lots of other people do, too.
You might be wondering why I was willing to put my garden in plain view next to the pool and where we hang out three seasons of the year. It was a combination of perspective shift and tangible tips that convinced me that vegetable gardens are beautiful.
My very first experience with a beautiful vegetable garden was at our friends’ Tom and Laura’s home. Stuck with a shady back yard, Laura decided that her front yard was the best place to grow vegetables. She and Tom created what is now one of the coolest front yard gardens I’ve ever seen.
Laura keeps the raised beds neat and the front walk through the middle of the garden is flanked by butterfly bushes, coneflowers and dill that volunteers in all sorts of places. Since Tom is an artist, the vegetable garden and their restful back yard is adorned with many of Tom’s metal sculptures. It was this fully-functional, beautiful vegetable garden that inspired me to grow food.
When I look at our yard in the spring, I see an edible landscape that takes my breath away. Besides the fenced garden, we have added asparagus and strawberry beds to the yard, blueberry bushes are incorporated into my perennial beds offering visual interest spring through fall, and lush fig trees sit in pots on the poolside patio.
This year, I will add two more raised beds primarily for herbs into what will become the apiary. In the front of the house near the street, there are more blueberry bushes and a trellis where our young blackberry bushes are growing.
Even into the fall when the vegetable garden begins to succumb to the cold, there is beauty in it. Maybe I love how it looks because I know the garden provides a measure of food security for Mr. President and me. I believe a garden isn’t something you just look at, but it should be a living thing that you interact with. That interaction with nature brings me so much joy, I can’t help but think it’s beautiful.
In addition to my perspective, there are some things you can do to make your own vegetable garden a thing of beauty.
- Keep it neat. I prefer a slightly wild-looking garden over one that is severely manicured, but it still helps to have some order about where things are planted. Keep plants in their space with judicious pruning and keep neat pathways through the plots or beds.
- In addition to the many benefits of growing plants in raised beds, they look great too. Although it is a little pricey, I recommend using cedar since it is not treated with chemicals that can leach into your soil. Cedar lasts a long, long time and is a good investment. It will weather to a lovely gray over time. To make building attractive raised beds a snap, I use these metal corners from Gardener’s Supply.
If you build a fence to help keep out pests, make it pretty. Nice wooden posts with large-opening wire mesh fencing that is nearly invisible at a distance will look better than rickety, floppy fencing. You can use the posts to hang baskets overflowing with colorful flowers, small bird feeders or a mason bee house as I do.
- Incorporate plants with attractive flowers into your vegetable garden. For instance, strategically place pots filled with marigolds to help repel insect pests and add color. Orange and yellow nasturtiums, cheerful chive flowers and delicate blue borage are not only pretty, but they make wonderful edible salad toppers.
- Enhance your garden with objets d’art. You don’t have to know a metal sculptor to adorn your space with outdoor art that will withstand the elements. Seek them out at garden centers and antique malls.
- Invite wildlife to your vegetable garden by adding a bird bath. You’ll enjoy watching birds while you garden, and they will help keep insect pests under control. If you have the time to maintain it properly, add a hummingbird feeder. These fascinating little birds will greet you first thing in the morning as you check on your crops.
- Think multi-dimensional. Vegetable garden layouts can incorporate vertical growing to draw the eyes upward. You can fashion a budget-friendly, rustic trellis using twigs from your yard or grow vining crops like peas and beans up and over an arbor in the garden. I grow scarlet runner beans over an arbor in my own garden. Hummingbirds love the pretty red flowers and the ensuing dried beans can be stored all winter.