Beautiful and/or Yummy Plants for the Garden
December 29, 2017 6:13 AM   Subscribe

I spent summer and fall preparing a 20x40 space for a garden on the in-laws farm. I plan to divide the space up into 9 beds. But what should I plant in them?

I’d like to plant varieties of fruits and veggies that are delicious but can’t be had at the grocery or farm market. I also want the space to be beautiful for my in laws who spend a lot of time watching birds and insects from their porch.

I’ll be out at the farm about once a week. Clay soil enriched through sheet composting. Full Kentucky sun.

Please recommend your favorite edibles, bird and pollinator attractors, and generally beautiful plants. Thanks!
posted by songs_about_rainbows to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Vegetable Cultivars for Kentucky Gardens—2013 (.pdf).
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:30 AM on December 29, 2017

For pollinator attractors I definitely recommend herbs: harvest some but let most of them flower. Also lots and lots of comfrey, wonderful for the insects and a fantastic green manure for the garden. I mulch my tomatoes with comfrey leaves in early summer and it’s the best fertilizer.

For beauty and unusual fruit: quinces, elderberry, currants, black raspberries, well-behaved blackberries (you can’t beat the taste of fresh picked, even at the farmer’s market), some old varieties of apples like russets or pippins (check to make sure you have an appropriate pollinizer or plant some crab apples too). I’d plant some paw paws too but that’s an advanced Weird Fruit maneuver.

Plant an asparagus bed! And a strawberry bed, there’s nothing better than wandering outside after dinner and picking some strawberries. Alpine strawberries produce all growing season long, I pick them daily until we get a killing frost here in MA.

Good luck, what a wonderful project!
posted by lydhre at 7:27 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Once a week might be a push, but okra loves the heat, gets big enough that weeds are a non issue, throws a lot of fruit, and has great hibiscus-like flowers. Easy to get at the grocery though, and you will lose some of the fruit due to it getting too big.
posted by ftm at 7:39 AM on December 29, 2017

Freshly harvested beans, cooked and eaten immediately, are very different from the ones you get at the store (more delicious and quicker to prepare). If you order some brown teppary beans from Rancho Gordo, cook most of them, and plant the others, you'll have some extremely drought-tolerant plants that yield protein-rich legumes and will breed true year after year.
posted by amtho at 7:51 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hot peppers, natch.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 7:51 AM on December 29, 2017

can’t be had at the grocery or farm market

Do get your plant starts from your Local Garden Center and farm market though, because they are offering tried-and-true options for your extremely local zone+microclimate. If you really want to know the very best tomatoes for your dirt and weather, ask your LGS.

My big rec, since it sounds like you have the space, is to grow an entire bed of basil. Harvest weekly (see youtube for maximum harvest techniques, and for beds like yours I recommend watching MIGardener, he's great and has a cottage garden he only gets to roughly weekly), wash and freeze almost all of it immediately, and make pesto at the end of the season. As you get to about mid-season, start letting one plant at a time grow enough to bolt, sending up these long shoots of flowerstalks. All my normal yard birds are brown and grey, except for the goldfinches who come specifically for the basil seeds, and I get a ton of bees too. And in the process they will scatter enough seed for the bed to restart itself the following spring. (Bonus, I've had smaller sparrows get attracted by the basil and then notice hornworms on my tomatoes and take care of them for me.)

I always grow peppers (far more than I actually eat, but they grow so good for me) and this year I discovered trendy delicious shishito peppers (tip: do that recipe, but after they come off the heat drizzle a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil over them and then toss as you salt the hell out of them). I froze so many hot peppers this year that I'm going to just grow three shishito plants in the spring.

Swiss Chard, particularly the rainbow kind, looks cool. They are one of those gardeners' conundrums though because one head cooked is maybe a serving and a half. I usually grow maybe four and harvest slowly, cut-and-come-again style, to add a few leaves to salad or on top of pizza.

I'm going to grow a crapload of chives this year to freeze, and eventually you can let them flower for pollinators.

Eggplants are pretty plants, lovely flowers, and fresh eggplant - especially the small Asian and Italian types you rarely get at the regular grocery stores - is another planet from long-fridged woody Black Beautys you get at the store. I grew Ping Tung this year, it was delicious, and I'm going to grow them and some Rosa Bianco next year.

I always tuck some sunflower seeds in between seedlings in my bigger beds, especially among things that are going to start slow and/or bushy like smaller tomatoes, low herbs, etc. They grow faster than the things around them so don't get cut off from the sun, and for birds and bees and cheerfulness you just can't beat 'em. Check the seed sections at your LGS, there's all kinds of neat new varieties but I find the plain old yellow ones just as happy. I put several down in my winter lettuce bed and they're up and open now, it's great.

It's a pain in the ass to find, but grow lemongrass. You can grow from store-bought ready-to-eat, but you'll need an extra year to really get established so I recommend finding an actual whole plant start if you can. One thing, though: it's a plant you keep around for years, which means you may want to grow it in a grow bag and bring inside for overwintering.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:25 AM on December 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

IMO, once a week is way too infrequent to keep up with pests and maintenance. Once your garden is producing, that too infrequent and you'll have stuff overgrowing and rotting on the vine.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:39 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sow True Seed has some interesting gift seed collections.

I'd say there is enough seed in those kits to fill 20' x 40' (but you could certainly message them to make sure). The kits can take the guess work out of making a coordinated garden.

I planted the Stir Fry Garden for myself last year, and just gifted the Fresh Salad Garden.

(Sow True Seed's mission is to "preserve our shared botanical heritage and grow a new era of sustainable culture and ecological wisdom." Seeds are open-pollinated, heirloom and organic)
posted by slipthought at 8:49 AM on December 29, 2017

Consider some potatoes. There are so many different kinds that some variety will thrive in your garden. They are often prettier plants than you might expect, and there's a big difference in flavor and taste compared to store bought.
posted by Mizu at 9:11 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tomatillos! The fruit when they come in look like little paper lanterns.

Heritage tomatoes in general. I've grown purple ones and tiger striped ones (can't remember the names off the top of my head right now, though, sorry!)

If you're worried about pests think about planting a bunch of marigolds too. They provide nectar to some beneficial insects. If nothing else, they're pretty and sometimes can serve as sacrificial plants for pests to eat.
posted by astapasta24 at 10:10 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you've never done vegetable gardening in your area, contact your local County Extension Agent/Service. They generally run the "Master Gardener" programs, and suchlike. These offices offer a wealth of information about gardening in general, and lately (in our area, anyway) food gardening. You can find out what might tend to be weedy in your area, best ways to improve your soil, and how to plan your garden so everything doesn't come on at once. You may even be able to do some winter gardening! Go to the local experts - and keep it organic if you can, that will do so much for pollinators, birds and your habitat.
Have fun!
posted by dbmcd at 10:14 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I always tuck some sunflower seeds in between seedlings in my bigger beds

I wouldn't do this without knowing the trick to doing it successfully. Sunflowers are notorious for being bad for other plants in the same area. Seriously, they somehow make the soil bad for other plants, and it's not just a small effect.

*** One other thing I'm going to plant as soon as I have some ground: celery leaf, which sounds absolutely delicious for soups (including a quick bowl of ramen). It's different from just plain celery; it grows leaves but not the celery stalks we're used to. I've heard that it's wonderful.
posted by amtho at 12:54 PM on December 29, 2017

Plant sunflowers/jerusalem artichokes on the north side border, that way they don't shade the other plants. After everything else is dead, we get lots of goldfinches and other little birds in ours.
For a low maintenance garden, start collecting large, plain cardboard now (no paint or ink, mattress boxes are great). Lay it down, then weight it down with some straw or mulch. You can inoculate the straw need with garden giant (winecap) mushrooms, they don't need light so they will happily grow underneath of zucchini or other plants.
We like Delicata squash (technically a winter squash, but you can eat it without peeling it when young, or you can store it) and giant pink banana squash for flavor.
Philippine okra is not supposed to get woody when large.
Tree collards and walking stick kale/cabbage look cool.
Although farmers think its a weed, you can grow some milkweed (and dill) for the butterflies.
Also, you don't have to grow weird vegetables to get stuff you can't get in the store; the stuff in the store is designed for its ability to travel, not for flavor.
posted by 445supermag at 1:44 PM on December 29, 2017

Most grocery store tomatoes are picked green and ripen in transit, or with assistance. They are varieties that tolerate handling as they must be picked, packed, shipped. They must be quite round and perfect. But you can grow tomatoes that taste amazing. Grow Brandywines; great flavor. Some form of Beefsteak - thin skinned, flavorful, juicy. Cherry tomatoes, not grape; grape tomatoes are hard as drawer knobs. I love coming home and picking as many cherry tomatoes as I can and just popping them in my mouth.

Kale is often grown as an ornamental. Rainbow chard. Arugula is expensive and I can't eat a whole bag in a reasonable time, but it's easy to grow. I just learned that if you let it grow, it's supposed to self-seed for next year. Broccoli rabe is tasty, but expensive when you can find it. Romaine is bright green, beet greens are red-veined, all those greens look so pretty. Brussel sprouts are tall and goofy-looking. I quite like the look of squash plants.

If you like garden-pron, you'll find some attractive ways to trellis green beans. Marigolds are supposed to discourage bad insects and they are cheerful. Nasturtiums are edible, will climb things, seem to keep aphids off other plants, and pretty.
posted by theora55 at 4:58 PM on December 29, 2017

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