Flowers in vegetable gardens

Already I can see the flowers creeping into our vegetable garden this spring. They always have  done, and I suspect they always will. I always start out with the best of intentions.This big garden is laid out in easy-to-manage squares, with a splendid long double row of asparagus along the far side.  I have my seeds in hand, this year mostly from The Whole Seed Catalog, which seduced me with its fascinating descriptions of the heirloom seeds it offers. In fact, my tomato seeds are sprouted under grow lights and are moving apace. Out  in the perennial herb square, the shoots are growing most encouragingly. I’ve also drafted a plan for every square which takes into consideration crop rotation and complimentary planting–as best I can. So far, so good.

red chardAnd yes, vegetables are pretty in themselves. Think feathery carrot tops, flowering dill, my favourite scarlet runner beans and ornamental swiss chard. Usually, I try to assuage my longing for flowers with a French potager-style garden. It’s just that everything grows better in this well-tended soil. All this available soil is in such good tilth, and unlike my flower gardens, it is blessed by sun. Before Barry and I can even have our annual discussion of where sunflowers could grow without interfering with the lettuce and purple cauliflowers, we detect sprouts “planted” by birds, and the argument is settled. We couldn’t possibly weed out these windfall sunflowers. And besides, they’ll bring birds to tackle the bugs.

That’s when the creep begins. This year I’m going to blame some of it on Diana Beresford-Kroeger. When I read her description of her row of 50 gladiolas in her inspiring recent book The Sweetness of a Simple Life I felt justified in expanding beyond my usual six scarlet and six plum. Where I will put these, I’m not quite sure, but I do know that the brilliant colours will give us joy.

It goes without saying that there will be yellow and orange calendulas and marigolds which I justify as companion plants. I also couldn’t manage without a row of mixed annuals, zinnias, bachelors buttons. More undisciplined are the pink, magenta and white cosmos, which have self-sown since the days of our first gardens. “Now look,” says Barry. “I can’t even get a hose down the paths with those great things in the way.” Knowing he’s right, I get the wheelbarrow and pitchfork and tug out a good many of them. Thinning anything is a job I loathe, and these give generously of themselves with so little effort. Unfortunately, within a few weeks, the remaining cosmos have grown so much that once again I have to remove many.

scarlet runnerLuckily I didn’t win the contest for five David Austen roses, because the only possible place for these would have been the vegetable garden. I do remember, though, that the best row of bearded iris I ever grew were the ones I tucked in beside the beets.

The only possible justification for this flower creep came from my artist mother. One autumn day she surveyed our wild and flowery vegetable garden with amusement. “I suppose,” she said, “you could call this a J.E.H. Macdonald ‘Tangled Garden‘.” And so I do.



About Peri McQuay

Peri Phillips McQuay is the author of Singing Meadow: The Adventure of Creating a Country Home, The View From Foley Mountain, a book of nature meditations on her experiences living for 30 years at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and A Wing in the Door: Life With a Red-tailed Hawk is the story of her adventures with Merak, a human-imprinted hawk, who lived free but saw McQuay and her family as her special people. Also Peri has written numerous essays, articles, book reviews and a weekly column, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard Magazine. Her credits include Country Journal, Harrowsmith, Bird Watcher’s Digest, The Snowy Egret, Seasons, The Fiddlehead, Herizons and Brick.
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