As the next season is approaching, I have started harvesting from my mixed gardening efforts. In earlier years I used to have a large vegetable garden and enjoyed rooting around in the soil, planting, and at the end of the season, harvesting with a passion. Flowers were grown separately in flower beds.
From my father, who grew up in the flower growing and green house area of the Netherlands on the edge of the North Sea, called Westland, I learned that flowers are a worthwhile crop. (All those flower bulbs you have in your garden are probably from the Netherlands, worth billions of dollars.) He always practiced mixed gardening and planted flowers and vegetables interspersed in his garden. The potted plants in the photo above are Italian parsley, variegated mint, basil, cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, and petunias.
After moving to Canada, I noticed that the tradition of the people around me seemed to be to separate useful and decorative crops, so I followed suit, learning along the way what climate will sustain which crops, first around the Edmonton area, then in more northern climes like Slave Lake, then in the Okanagan–heaven for gardeners with its long season and hot climate.
When we moved to a (smaller) city lot some ten years ago with an exclusively decorative garden, I found after a couple of years that could not completely give up having a few vegetables. I decided to go with the principle of mixed gardening, and companion planting, reverting back to my old, Dutch experiences.
I converted my raised front yard flowerbed into a mixed tomato/flower patch. I planted ten to twelve plants, and interspersed these with some annual flowers, lavender, and basil plants. The advantage of inter-planting with herbs and stronger scented plants is that insects will avoid eating those, and also stay away from the tender beans. The lavender and other flowers will attracts bees to pollinate the veggies, so these will bear fruit and produce beans (or tomatoes).
For a number of years we have enjoyed a bountiful harvest of tomatoes starting to pick them in August into October, or until the first frosty nights were expected. I then would pick the tomatoes (many of them green) and laid them out between newspapers to further ripen. When many ripened at the same time, I have at times made a nice tomato sauce, froze it in small batches, to be used in various dishes as the winter progressed, until all was consumed.
From my earlier gardening days I know not to plant tomatoes or potatoes in the same bed year after year, to avoid infection with specific diseases that these plants are vulnerable to. Once infected, the microorganism can survive in the soil over the winter and thus ruin next years crop as well. So this year I rotated crops in my raised bed as prevention: beans instead of tomatoes. Beans have the advantage of using space vertically: the Scarlet Runner bean and Kentucky Pole bean grow up and up, self-climbing when you give it a stake to attach itself to.
I planted low bush beans between the pole beans. These bush beans were ready for harvesting ahead of the pole beans, so I have been eating beans for a while and will be–until the frosty nights will arrive in the Okanagan. The pole beans started maturing later and I have eaten a few meals of crunchy fresh, tasty beans since last week. I pick the beans early while almost in an immature stage, so they are crunchy and tender.
I like to cook beans the French way, first experienced on a camping vacation in the French Dordogne some forty years ago, when my boyfriend and I were lazy one day and bought a pre-ordered meal from the camp site operator’s wife, just outside of Sarlat. The meal consisted of rice with a generous portion of beans that were enhanced with a lot of golden onions, garlic, some ground beef, spiced up with a fried tomato or two, pepper, and basil. Bonne appetit!
By the way, for the book buffs: this campground was located directly across from the driveway entrance of the home of Antoine de Saint Exupery—author of The Little Prince.
I couldn’t help but stash some herbs in the flowerpots on my second floor deck off the kitchen. Now that I have no tomatoes in my gardening bed, I planted some in the flowerpots on my deck. A pot by the entrance on the ground floor where I had planted some primulas and annuals earlier in the year, now also produces hot chillies.
The more mature beans can be somewhat tough, so with my bean slicer that I brought from the Netherlands, I French-slice the beans that need it.
My suggestion would be: since you are putting effort into gardening anyway, why not plant a few vegetables of your choice between the flowers and get the benefits of mixed gardening. You can control in a small way what you eat. Why not start here?
Websites exists that can advise you on the soil requirements for each crop and flower, and further educate the public on the benefits and drawbacks of this style of gardening.
I like it and feel that my gardening is optimally used, in terms of water with underground irrigation (during the hot weeks it drenches each section of the yard twice a week for an hour each time) and added nutrients (once a month a dousing by hand with water soluble nutrients), is low maintenance (½ hour lawn mowing each week, hand weeding twice during the season and maybe with the weed eater 3x a season for the edges of the lawn) and is very functional as heat-lowering landscaping. At the same time it looks great, at least in my view. I see lots of birds around as well, and I have no insects of any significance.