Last year was our very first year spent playing farmer. Perhaps I should rephrase that. Last year we enthusiastically planted some herbs, veggies, and fruits in a small backyard garden that we created just for that purpose. Farmer might be a bit of a stretch, but for two not-always-great-with-plants people, it was quite a lofty goal… and it worked! Now that spring is back in full bloom (and the local farmer’s market is finally open again) we were able to replant a ton of new stuff and some old favorites too. You can read about how we originally prepped and planted our edible garden right here (tip: we used some non-edible evergreen shrubs to fill things out and keep it looking good year round). And you can see how that garden did thanks to a little update that we posted a few months later right here. And now for this year’s edible garden status report…
We’re not gonna lie. Things were looking a little bleak when we started. Overgrown seen-better-days daffodil leaves were all floppy on the ends of our planting bed, and don’t ask how many leaves were somehow still living among the evergreen shrubs since last fall.
But it was nothing that a little raking and daffodil-stem-cutting couldn’t solve. And once the garden was a bit less unkempt looking, we were able to start playing around with the placement of the new herbs and veggies that we picked up this year at the farmer’s market (the first day it opened actually, we were seriously missing our free backyard eats).
This time we grabbed some old favorites from last year like three sweet basil plants and two different types of tomato (two Roma tomato plants and two cherry tomato stalks called Riesentraube) along with some new additions (two chive plants, some mint, some rosemary, a bit of cilantro, and a Charleston bell pepper). Oh and we can’t forget that some things shocked us by coming back from the dead, so there was no need to replant them (our oregano and parsley sprung up to surprise us this spring). Plus the raspberry bush that we planted last year is a perennial, so we expected that to come back and are happy to report that it has been thriving since the warmer weather hit a few months back. We should have some fruit on that in a month or so.
As we mentioned we also already had some shrubs in the garden (planted as part of last year’s garden-establishing project) that look great year-round and fill out the area so it looks a bit less like a random hodge-podge of dinky herbs and veggies. Of course the existing peony bush and rose bush (both inherited with the house) on either side of the back row in front of that frosted window help to keep things looking good. And the two Winter Gem Boxwoods and the feathery Cypress King’s Gold bush in the front row also lend structure and form to the garden so our smaller sprouts don’t look too piddly and alone.
That other leafy thing you can barely see between the peony and the rose bush in that back row in front of the frosted window is the aforementioned raspberry bush that we planted last year (we can’t wait for that to sprout up- it actually gets pretty big and anchors the whole back row even more). So with those shrubs already in place, we just spaced out the smaller herbs among the larger established plants for a nice balanced look. We put the smaller low-growing herbs in the front row and the ones that we knew would get bigger (like the tomatoes) towards the back and in spots that had more room for them to fill out. There wasn’t much more of a method to our madness, except that we grouped like herbs (so all three of our basil sprigs were planted together, as were both of our chive plants).
Oh and we also learned a tip about the mint that we added to the mix this year: plant it in a pot and bury that in the ground (see the green pot in the right corner of the shot above?). It’ll look like all of the other herbs since the pot will be completely hidden, but mint is a spreading plant that can threaten to take over your whole garden, so by keeping the roots confined to a pot you’ll save it from monopolizing your garden by the end of the season.
So after we dug that pot in for our mint and planted the rest of our farmer’s market finds (we used some free backyard compost to give them all the nutrients they’ll need) it was time to mulch. And before we knew it we had a nice little edible garden staring back at us. We even used a few popsicle sticks to label things, just to keep them straight. Besides, it looks kind of charming and homegrown, which adds to the sweetness of the little herbs and veggies interspersed between the larger bushes and shrubs that live there year-round.
Here’s the view from above (peering down from the sunroom):
Since these photos were taken we’ve already eaten a good amount of oregano, rosemary, and pretty much all of the basil (thank goodness it grows back quickly). And we already have requests from friends and family members for some tomatoes (they’re so easy to bring when you’re visiting- and of course you feel so fancy when you get to mention that you grew them yourself).
In other news, pretty much right after we mulched everything in our garden, the pretty pink peony started to bloom. Sweet.
Oh and we suppose we should talk about the cost of our little garden habit since we know you love a good budget breakdown. Last year we spent less than $60 prepping the soil and planting all the foundation shrubs along with the first round of herbs, veggies and fruits. And this year we only spent $19 for all of our new herbs and veggies to replenish and substantially add to our original supply (and that cost also includes two bags of mulch to keep things moist). Considering you can easily pay $16 for a store bought container of basil and oregano along with one small basket of raspberries and a small tub of cherry tomatoes- an entire season’s worth of fruits, veggies and herbs for that price is definitely worth about an hour of planting and mulching. We really can’t emphasize enough how black our thumbs were last year when we decided to start an edible garden, but they’re super easy so there’s really no green thumb necessary. Just try to water things if they’re looking super dry, but other than that they’re pretty much an auto-pilot thing. So if you’re wondering if you can do it, trust us… you can.
And on a totally random tangent-type note, our backyard irises (planted by the lovely original homeowners nearly 50 years ago- so they’re HUGE!) are back in bloom. But on an edible-garden-related note, they smell good enough to eat.
So that ends the garden update. What are you guys planting these days? Any other edible gardeners out there? Any favorite fruits, veggies or herbs that you plant (or wish you could plant) each year (we’re always so jealous that Meyer lemon trees can’t live outside in our climate)? Any container gardeners (or windowsill gardeners) out there making optimal use of a small space? Tell us all about it.
Psst- Wanna know how we water our garden for free (courtesy of mother nature). Check out this post all about how we built a rain barrel. And learn how we created a super simple backyard composting bin right here.
Be careful with the mint…it can take over SO quickly. We tried and tried to pull it up, but the roots were so scattered, that it kept taking over our whole herb/tomato garden. We ended up having to kill it with a spray ( and move our garden elsewhere for a summer). We have resorted to growing mint for our mojitos in a container!
Ooops, missed the mint in the pot comment!
Sarah B says
My favorite thing to plant is pumpkins and gourds – you need quite a bit of space since the vines tend to spread out some but it is soo fun going to your own pumpkin patch and you will save a fortune since many of them are sold by the pound or size. And considering they can be used as fall decorations all the way through Thanksgiving – it’s a bargain!
As we do not have a balcony or garden in our apartment, we started a small windowsill edible garden with basil, rosemary, thyme, chives and chili – all started from seeds, it is really amazing to watch the seeds germinate and grow.
The chili plant even looks great.
Good call on the mint! I was worried you would have a mint garden for a second. It is a crazy plant.
Liz @ Bon Temps Beignet says
Oh, I love irises. They’re so pretty. My husband threw an old potato in our back yard a few months ago and while I was weeding the other day I found tiny little red baby potatoes sprouting off of it. They were too cute and tiny to eat so I just replanted them in hopes that they’ll keep growing.
Jessica @ How Sweet says
We haven’t planted anything yet – going to this upcoming weekend. Really looking forward to it. :)
I recently created a vegetable garden too (and happened to have just blogged about it). I had a vegetable garden last year, but the deer got to it. This year I made one in the fenced-in area of my yard so the deer couldn’t get it, but my dogs dug up the vegetables instead. Oh well, I guess I’m just not meant to be a farmer.
Andrea P says
Do the peonies come back every year on their own?
Or do you buy them every year?
I am very interested in planting some because I love them!
They’re actually perennials, so they cone back every year without fail. Hope it helps!
Leigh @ Kesler Expressler says
I’d still be careful with the mint even though it’s in a pot. It can still jump out of the pot with its “branches/feelers” and spread. I had mint in a pot on my deck and it tried to jump into the pot of parsley next to it.
We have a really small garden. But last night I made a salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and a green pepper we grew ourselves! With a homemade dijon vinaigrette…so fresh and yummy
Cara @ Live the Home Life says
Oh dear. With a thumb as brown as mine (and a couple of dogs that love to nibble on cilantro), I’m able to take on a simple herb garden but that’s about it for now. Maybe next year I’ll branch out and try a few veggie. This year, plenty of trips to the farmers market will be in store for us!
Your garden looks great!
We live in a townhouse with a postage stamp backyard, but last year, we had an adventure in container gardening. Herbs, of course, but also balcony tomatoes, tomatillos, fingerling eggplant, mini bell peppers, and some jalapenos. It was such a success that we actually gave up a little section of the yard to put some things in the ground! More herbs this year, but we’re trying out a couple of new tomato varieties, a different kind of eggplant, tomatillos again, a funky broccoli, and some hot peppers.
Our one goal is to grow something OTHER than what we can buy at our local farmer’s market. Then we can reap the benefits of supporting local farms AND having some cool veggies of our own! I order the seeds and start them in the house in March.
I just planted our first crop of herbs and veggies at our new house this weekend!
A warning on the parsley: in the spring of its second year, it will start blooming and go to seed, and the foliage won’t be so tasty anymore. I like to let mine overwinter, as you did, so I can get some nice early spring leaves from it. Now is probably the right time to replace it so you’ll have yummy parsley all summer long.
Parsley are also subject to getting what my mother and I refer to as “parsley caterpillars”–we think they’ll later become swallowtail butterflies. So we usually plant three to six parsley plants–one-third for us, two-thirds for the caterpillars. It’s okay to let them eat the parsley down to the ground–they’re only around for about two weeks of the year, and the parsley plants will quickly regenerate from their reserves stored in their significant taproots.
I’m growing sage, lavender and rosmary on my tiny balcony.
Last saturday I also sowed some catnip: cross your fingers!
And the great thing about having flowering bushes/plants around your edibles is that they attract all kinds of good bugs that will help take care of any bad bugs.
I’ve had good luck with thyme too. Thyme and rosemary seem to go together well, so those are two that I always have on hand. We’re trying tomatoes AGAIN this year. I got lots of help from my mom the master gardener, so maybe we’ve got decent soil going and they’ll make it. Now I just have to keep the birds out them!
This should be the last time you buy chives! It won’t take over like mint does, but it should be a perennial for you and spread somewhat due to reseeding.
I do not have nearly as many edibles this year as usual, but over the weekend I planted three tomatoes, two bell peppers, a cayenne pepper, rosemary, basil, thyme, catnip (yes, for our cats, but I’ve heard it makes good tea) and oregano. We already have mint and chives.
Normally I practice winter sowing and have A LOT more herbs and vegetables (and flowers), but I had a baby boy Nov. 30 and just knew I wouldn’t have the time time or energy to do that this past winter. Maybe next year!
Instead of cutting off your dying daff leaves (I know they look messy and bedraggled, but they need to be able to store up energy for next year’s bloom while dying back), consider braiding them and tying them off with one of the leaves which will inevitably break off as you braid. Looks neat, and allows the bulb to do its thing. Good point about the mint…I’ll dig up the orange mint I just planted and pot it! I also wonder if oregano does the same thing…..I’m finding it growing all over my lawn!!
Next time you want to add a shrub for anchoring the design of a garden year round, consider a small bay tree/shrub….free bay leaves for life!
Laura J says
Hi! Question about the mulch – you mentioned both mulch and compost, do you use those two words interchangeably? If not, what kind of mulch do you use? The stuff I usually see around is so chemically-enhanced that I can smell it a quarter mile down the road! Thanks for any insight. LJ
Laura- We use compost as a soil amendment, so when we dig in the plants we add compost for that nutrient rich edge that our soil wouldn’t otherwise have. Mulch on the other hand is what we use to polish thibgs off. After everything is planted a nice 2″ coat of mulch on top of the garden looks great and keeps moisture in for happier plants.
Chrissy- We haven’t tried that yet, but we bet other commenters will chime in about it.
Susan- Nobody is more excited to meet the baby than we are! And of course when she’s here we’ll be singing it from the rooftops!
Thanks for this post! I needed the encouragement to get out there & plant some edible stuff (I just kill EVERYthing!). Do you know anything about the topsy turvy tomato planter? I’m wondering if it’s worth a shot?
What great advice about the mint… my Mother-in-law and I were just discussing its kudzu-like tendency to take over.
My husband and I planted lots of herbs this year (rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano) along with tomato, zucchini, cucumber and a plethora of peppers. Should be a fun summer!
Oh, and I am totally a container gardener other than strawberries and a peach tree (and my husband’s hops) because our soil is awful, all clay. I have three Earth boxes in addition to other containers and am trying a Topsy Turvy tomato planter for the first time this year.
I wish I could grow citrus (looove lemons and limes) and my husband wishes he could grow bananas.
Your garden looks great! We plant a bunch of herbs and tomatoes each year, but the basil is my favorite. We have six basil plants, and I’ll use that to make enough delicious homemade pesto to freeze and last the whole year. Here’s our recipe, if you’re interested! http://oneluckycouple.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/house-update/
Looking good! Isn’t it fun to grow your own edibles? There’s nothing like laboring over your veggies and knowing exactly how they were grown…and with what!
I second the comment above about the mint…oy vey, is it hard to stop once it gets going. We had some jump from the backyard to the front – a distance of probably 250 feet! – and it must have been either by birds or a seed carried by me. Another hard one is lemon balm.
Regarding daffodils, while the fading leaves are ugly buggly to look at, the process of their dying is actually helping each bulb store energy for the next year’s bloom and growth. Cut the stems and dead flowers off, sure, but leave the leaves. Some folks “braid” them to keep them tidy, or plant other things that’ll come into prime during the Great Death, thereby hiding the fading daffs. :)
Great post but more importantly, is the baby here yet?!
oh darn it, looks like i’m not winning the baby pool. and your garden looks lovely.
elle sees says
i always wondered if you guys had a garden! and now i know!
cozy kitchen by the sea says
I love to grow basil … yum !
your garden is precious :)
Awsome work! My tomato plants are going in after the long weekend.. Its my first time growing anything and I’m quite enjoying watching them grow from seeds.. :)
If you have room to add anything else to the garden, I would highly recommend adding some marigolds. They are great natural pest repellents. They’re also companion plants for both tomatoes and peppers–they help them grow!
Ooh, this post has me itching for MN spring to hurry up and stay warm! It’s a little dangerous for us to plant much earlier than Memorial day because of the threat of frost. I live in a townhome so I can’t do a ton of planting but I do enjoy sprucing up my patio with some pretty blooms and herbs. I can’t wait to have a new OLD house where I can plant my little edible garden too! Someday!
You may already know this, but you can split those beautiful irises and plant them throughout your yard. Actually, splitting them encourgages blooms, because after a few years they get really crowded. Enjoy your yummy garden!
The whole garden looks great, but mostly I am jealous of the gorgeous peonies! I love love love them.
@Kitty – Oregano is a member of the mint family! :)
Is it just me or does it look like someone painted the daybed from the old guestroom white?
As I was noticing that though, I did notice how great your garden looks!
Have you experienced heirloom tomatoes yet? If not, try to find some. They taste like what summer should be.
I live outside of Philadelphia, and I have a Meyer lemon tree! I just keep it in a big pot, and in the house it goes during the winter. It will never get terribly large, but it does produce lemons, and when it blooms in the spring, it smells amazingly sweet.
Marcy Tate says
The bricks on the outside of your home are so bright and clean looking. Are they the original bricks? How to keep them looking so good?
Yup, they’re original- and we really don’t do a thing to them- just keep ivy off of them and wipe ’em down if the mulch or dirt splashes up onto it when we’re gardening.
Your going to want to remember to stake your tomatoes and even your pepper plant as they grow taller. And beware, last year we planted 4 tomato plants and we had so many that some went bad even through we ate them everyday and gave them to neighbors!
You’re garden is looking great! Although I’m sad upon seeing your peony and irises…ours have already bloomed and faded. SIGH. Till next year…
We have a nice little veggie garden going on this year (last years was a disappointment)and so far it’s thriving! We’re growing tomatoes, bell pepper, cilantro, basil, rosemary, lavender, brussels sprouts, onions (lots and lots of onions. They take up very little space-16 in a square foot-and are great pest deterrents)and potatoes. Parsley, mint and dill spouted up from last year, too which is a nice bonus!
FYI, parsley is a biennial, meaning it’s life cycle is two years. It will probably flower and go to seed fairly soon – so its possible it may seed itself for next year, you may have to plant again.
Also, to go along with dividing the irises, you can do the same with peonies when they get large. We have some that are seriously over 150 years old. My mother’s ancestors took them with them to Nebraska on a covered wagon and they eventually made their way to our house in NC.
Allison J. says
We are also edible gardeners, we have been growing our veggies and composting up here in MN for the past 2 years, and this year, we are going to take on canning and other forms of preservation–so much fun! Similar to mint, Raspberries can spread quickly (but then you just end up with more raspberries.
We are trying to blog about our attempt at growing all of our own produce this year–you can check it out at http://www.thefullcirclegarden.blogspot.com
But we are no where near as professional about it as you guys! :)
Kele S. says
@ Chrissi My sister got me the Topsy Turvey tomato planter and I ended up taking it back to the store because I thought the big green bag was an eye sore in my backyard. But my sister says the results of it are great. I think this would be something to consider for those that are doing container gardening / don’t have a plot of land devoted to a garden.
Ashley @ The Design Thief says
I love this! I’ve started a few herbs in a window box planter, and hopefully I can take them into a full sized garden soon. I’m glad yours is turning out well!
Just planted my first “at my own place, in the ground” garden. I used to grow stuff when I was a kid living with my parents, and I’ve grown things on apartment balconies, but this year is my first real garden. I’m using a sideyard that gets full sun, its about 45 feet long and half of it is 10 feet wide, and the other half is about 5 feet wide. We put a gate up to separate it from the rest of the backyard (otherwise my 2 dogs would love to “play” in there.) So far I’ve planted strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, and tomato plants, plus a zucchini and a bell pepper. I’m going to plant different types of peppers (both hot and mild) and I planted beans and peas and radishes, carrots, spinach, herbs, and 3 types of lettuce, and kale and arugula. The crazy thing is, its all sprouting!!! I sort of expected about 2/3 of it to never come up. Really exciting! We’ve already been able to eat 2 little strawberries, and those plants have only been in the ground 2 weeks.
I love you garden. I want one just like it. Nice and simple. Maybe once graduate school is done …
P.S. I spy a painted daybed in one of the pictures.
Just a comment on the Irises; make sure to be careful with certain flowers and plants pets. For dogs several varietals of Iris are poisonous if ingested. Just a couple of weeks ago our Husky got a hold of a few which led to a days worth of vomitting. It was nothing a quick trip to the vet couldn’t cure, but has made my husband and I rethink what we plant in the yard and clip to bring in the house.
A garden is one of the things I am looking forward to most when we buy our first house. Congrats on the healthy plants and the tasty treats you’ll get from them!
Cecily T says
I see most of the commenters beat me to the punch regarding advice about the daffodils, the mint, and the chives.
I’m doing mostly container gardening this year b/c I’ve still got 6 weeks until my 2nd little one arrives.
I will add that raspberry can also be quite prolific depending on the type. I put 3 canes in last year, and there are a TON of suckers coming up!
Oregano is very hardy and will happily come back for quite a few years, too!
Carolyn H. says
I’m on my fourth year as a gardener. We started out as black-thumb newbies at the community garden, sharing a plot with friends. Now we’ve moved our veggie growing to our own backyard.
This year, a lightbulb went off. We realized that we didn’t have to plant JUST ONCE, but could stagger the planting and reap the benefits throughout the year. We started with cold-weather plants (peas, kale, spinach, lettuces) in the early Spring. Now that it’s getting hotter, we’ll add tomatoes and peppers. When it starts to get cooler this Fall? Back to the cold weather plants. And if something dies? Plant something else in its place. Brilliant!