Pretty Enough To Eat

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Gone are the days where ‘salad’ meant a limp lettuce leaf and a dollop of salad cream (in the UK) or ranch dressing (in the USA)! Leaf crops such as spinach, peppery arugula and crunchy kale jostle with a tantalizing blend of colorful lettuce varieties. Harvest some young beet leaves, carrot tops and herbs and you have a fabulous base to add cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers and spring onions. The adventurous chef may even sprinkle in a few edible flowers for a garnish.

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Buying all those ingredients at the store isn’t cheap, however, and how often have you had to throw out the last of the salad leaves because it went bad? The good news is that we can grow all of these in our own gardens – even if we only have a small patio. If you’re new to edible gardening start with something easy such as lettuce, especially if you grow  one of the ‘cut and come again’ or mesclun’ blends.

How to grow lettuce 

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6" or so

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6″ or so

Whether you are planting in the ground or a container be sure the soil is weed free and friable (that just means that it crumbles easily in your hand rather than a wet clod of clay or superfine and sand-like). Do not fertilize; too much nitrogen can make the flavor bitter

Select an area that receives 4-6 hours of direct sun each day, preferably in the morning. Many lettuce varieties will bolt in high summer and/or hot afternoon sun and actually prefer to get direct morning sun but afternoon shade. You may be able to shade them by planting on the eastern side of a row of tall tomatoes or beans for example

Loosely sprinkle the seed onto the soil surface as directed on the packet, cover with ~1/4″ soil and water thoroughly but gently.

If you are planting out seedlings space them approx. 6″ apart to allow room for them to grow. I use a row marker to keep the lines straight.

Keep the soil bed moist.

Harvesting

Cut what you need for now - and come back for more later

Cut what you need for now – and come back for more later

For cut and come again varieties harvest leaves with scissors, leaving the main plant in situ.

For head lettuce thin to spacing indicated on the packet (eat the thinnings!)

Sow small amounts of seed every 2-3 weeks to extend the harvest

Tips

Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

There is no need to work lettuce into a crop rotation. Just plant them where space permits between slower growing plants.

Water in the morning to reduce the likelihood of fungal disease developing.

Problems

Squirrel damage!

Squirrel damage!

Slugs – use Sluggo Plus or set beer traps

Bolting – some varieties are more prone to this than others. Also dry soil can cause this.

Squirrels, rabbits and more! – Rabbits won’t jump into beds that are 18″ tall so a taller container or custom height raised bed may be your answer. Squirrels were an unexpected challenge when we filmed our class in San Diego but we think we have them thwarted by adding a hoop structure over a raised bed and covering it with window screen.

Favorite varieties

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

There are SO many to choose from but I always leave room for;

Jericho – a crunchy, romaine type lettuce that is very resistant to bolt.

Little Gem – a classic semi-cos variety that is crunchy but tender

Gourmet Baby Greens – a mesclun mix from Botanical Interests

 

Interested in more ideas for easy vegetable gardening? You might also enjoy The Movable Feast.

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!

Resources

Building a Raised Bed Garden; our NEW video class for Craftsy teaches you everything you need to know with step-by-step instruction. Discover more and get a 50% discount!

Raised Bed Workshop; live in the Seattle area? Join Andy and I in our garden May 16th for a morning of instruction, demonstration, and inspiration. Limited space – get the details

 

 

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Designing the Perfect Raised Bed

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Gardening in raised beds has become increasingly popular in recent years not least of all because it can solve so many gardening challenges. Got terrible soil? Not a problem when you add exactly the right soil mix to the bed. Problems with rabbits? Only super-athletic rabbits will get into beds 18″ or taller. Find bending difficult? Since raised beds are taller you won’t have to lean down as far.

However, there is a common misconception that all raised beds are equal but that simply isn’t true. One size does NOT fit all so it is important to identify what your personal gardening challenges are and design a bed to suit.

Poor soil

Whether you garden on hard rocky soil, fast draining sandy soil or solid clay that is saturated in winter but dries out completely in summer you’ve clearly discovered by now that growing a wide range of vegetables is virtually impossible. Creating a raised bed is the easiest solution but how high should it be?

If you are only interested in growing a few salad leaves and baby radish a 6″ soil depth is adequate, but if you plan to grow  root crops such as parsnips then 6″ is too shallow (my parsnips often exceed 12″ long). I recommend 10-12″ depth if the beds are on native soil which is nice and loose like mine. If your native soil is of the “too rocky/too sandy” variety then consider 15″ tall beds.

Ease of reach

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You will want to be able to work with a variety of different tools in your bed; a rake and hoe for soil preparation, a hand trowel, dibber and row markers for planting and probably a short digging fork for harvesting. When you decide how tall to make your raised bed be sure to consider this. A 30″  tall bed is wonderful for harvesting salad  and beetroot by hand but would you be comfortable digging up potatoes at that height? Try it and see – can you get the leverage you’d need? Perhaps 1′ tall is optimal?

Ease of reach is also about how well you can reach the middle of the raised bed. Many designs are 4′ wide but is that best for you?

My beds are 3′ wide and 12″ high. I can kneel (or sit on a little stool)at the side of the bed and comfortably reach in 18″ to plant seeds. That means I can easily reach the middle of a 3′ wide bed from either side. A 4′ wide bed is too much of a stretch for me. Again, take a few minutes to test these dimensions before you commit to building or buying a raised bed.

Are you thinking of growing beans or peas on trellises? If your bed is 2′ tall and you add 5′ trellis you’ll need a ladder to harvest! You may be OK with that – but do take time to consider it.

Would you like to build your own?

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We can help! My husband Andy and I teach an online class for Craftsy called Building A Raised Bed Garden - and you can win it for FREE.

In this seven part video class we take you through everything from site preparation and materials selection to tips to help you make the most of every square inch of your planting space. Andy teaches a great lesson on setting up an easy drip irrigation system that can be adapted to each bed, each crop and each season and we also show you how to adjust the basic bed design to accommodate a simple hoop frame.

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Now you can protect against weather and insects to further extend the harvesting season and improve productivity.

Seriously you can do this – Andy makes it so easy! Design the raised bed that works best for you then build it yourself with our help.

What’s so special about Craftsy? Their videos are exceptionally high quality, your subscription never expires, you can interact with fellow students and your instructors and if you’re not satisfied Craftsy will refund your money! What’s to lose?

Our new class goes live on April 13th but right now you can enter to win the class for free.

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Click to be entered to win this class for FREE!

 

Just click on the photo above to be entered. The giveaway ends midnight PST April 12th 2015.

Get ready to grow an abundance of healthy vegetables and fruit this year.

CONGRATULATIONS to the winner Ena Ronanyne!

Didn’t win? Well how about a consolation prize; click here to take my class for HALF PRICE.

 

Photo credit; Craftsy. Location; garden of Susi and Jose Torre Bueno, San Diego

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Punch Up the Color!

Looking for a new color twist this year? Try magenta on for size. Neither pink nor purple, magenta  leans towards fuchsia but is deeper.

Designer Daniel Mount is one of the best colorists I know. Where I would settle for a pleasing color echo he achieves that but  then kicks it up a notch to become exceptional. In the design above I love the way he has blended the burgundy tones of velvety Big Red Judy coleus with  duskier bronze foliage of Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus) before throwing in the wildly vibrant Red Riding Hood phlox. A froth of pale yellow Japanese forest grass edges the border while the rich golden Sun King aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ ) becomes the backdrop.

Red Riding Hood phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Red Riding Hood’)

Red Riding Hood phlox

Red Riding Hood phlox

This perennial grows to 2′ tall and wide in sun or part shade. The fragrant flowers attract bees and butterflies. Divide every 3-4 years. Hardy in zones 4-8

Sun King aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ )

Sun King aralia

Sun King aralia

A standout in the shade garden, this golden leaved perennial grows to 6′ tall and 4′ wide. White summer flowers are followed by black fruit. Hardy in zones 4-8

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus)

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding – bronze foliage and magenta flowers

An annual worth growing or hunting for. In late summer long tassels of magenta will explode from the central bud. To 5′ tall. Birds will love the seed heads!

Other ideas?

Enjoy these other combinations by the same designer.

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Annual cleome and perennial lilies takes over from phlox for floral color while gold perennials are replaced by creamy white grasses.

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Distant tulips echo the rich color of the Ravenswing cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’) stem as it pierces the golden Japanese forest grass in this early season scene. (Be warned; this perennial can become invasive).

Or try these color combos;

Magenta + Black;  chic and sophisticated

Magenta + Orange; wild child!

 

Thunder and Lightening field scabious (Knautia) with hyssop (Agastache)

Thunder and Lightening field scabious (Knautia) with hyssop (Agastache) – discovered in a Seattle garden. Designer unknown

What will you pair it with?

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Succulent Safari

Sunrise on Succulents; design by Debra Lee Baldwin

Sunrise on Succulents; design by Debra Lee Baldwin

 

From Seattle to San Diego;

three hours and a world of plants away.

My husband Andy and I were working in southern California last week, basking in the warm sunshine. Whenever time allowed I would scurry off with my camera to take photos of the incredible landscapes that relied heavily on drought tolerant succulents. Everywhere I looked there were firecracker colors, attracting all manner of hummingbirds and bees.

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Such striking colors and shapes

Some vignettes were larger than life such as this display at the San Diego Botanical Garden.

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Others were Lilliputian in scale yet every bit as intricate

Design by Laura Eubanks in the garden of Debra Lee Baldwin

Design by Laura Eubanks in the garden of Debra Lee Baldwin

These succulents are hardy in San Diego but for those of us in colder climates we can enjoy many of them as summer annuals or as houseplants that take a little vacation in our summer gardens. Regardless of how you use them there are some clear design tips we can glean from these displays.

1. Color

Mix it up! Throw a little orange or red into the greens and blues and just watch those combinations come alive. This could be a succulent foliage such as Euphorbia ‘Fire Sticks’ or a long blooming flower. In Seattle we could try one of the new red hot pokers that have tidy foliage, a more compact habit and longer bloom time e.g. Mango popsicle. The flower color and shape is very similar to many of those I photographed.

Euphorbia 'Fire Sticks' glows at sunrise, sunset and every hour in between

Euphorbia ‘Fire Sticks’ glows at sunrise, sunset and every hour in between

2. Foliage texture

Spikes rule in the succulent kingdom but there are lots of other shapes too. Look for flattened rosettes, and plump teardrops for contrast.

 

Mix spotted spikes with softer rosettes and add a dash of orange!

Mix spotted spikes with softer rosettes and add a dash of orange!

 3. Spacing

Get up close and personal – especially if you are planning a summer display. The beauty of Laura Eubanks‘ work below is the snuggle factor.

A tapestry of snuggled succulents - by Laura Eubanks

A tapestry of snuggled succulents set off by lava rock – by Laura Eubanks. Garden of Debra Lee Baldwin

So whether you live in Scotland or Seattle, San Diego or South Carolina you can still enjoy a succulent safari. It may be on your kitchen table for many months of the year or you may be able to plant acreage this way but follow these simple tips and the display will always be fabulous.

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When Less is More

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The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is always a highlight of the gardening year for me. Whether you are new to gardening or an experienced designer you will leave inspired, encouraged and ready for spring.

The display gardens take center stage, their styles ranging from whimsical to naturalistic but all find a way to connect to the annual theme which for this year was ROMANCE. Every garden offers an abundance of ideas yet there is always one designer who for me stands out from the crowd; Karen Stefonick of Karen Stefonick Designs.

The title of her 2015 design featured here is KNOTTY & NICE; Here’s to WE Time.

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Here’s what Karen said about her design;

“For a couple seeking to connect, play, relax and set time aside to be with each other—“we time”—this garden caters to both the masculine and feminine senses; calling in the energy of both.

The ‘Knotty’ reference to this part of the vignette is both the trees and plantings which are various forms of pine as well as large beams of pine wood used to create the structure. Meanwhile, the ‘Nice’ traits are displayed by the more feminine attributes of lyrical water, warm fire and cozy furnishings.

A protective pergola surrounded by large bold stones–complemented by a soothing water feature–is mirrored in a reflecting pond. The final touch is a cozy fireplace and cushy furniture that you can sink into.

The majority of plantings in this garden are evergreen so you have a very textural and abundant array of visual interest year round, not just in the spring and summer. After all, romance is for all seasons!”

Why it Works

To me there are three key features that make this design so attractive and functional;

1. Use of Negative Space 

It would have been so easy to add more plants or an extravagant fountain into the pool. Or maybe a few large planted containers on the patio and baskets hanging from the pergola. Yet the essence of this design is all about restraint. Leaving open the expanse of water and allowing the naked architecture of the vaulted pergola to be seen creates uncluttered ‘negative space’. This becomes a visual break allowing focus to be on the clean lines and contrasting textures of natural materials. For the homeowner this translates to a feeling of meditative peacefulness and tranquility rather than over-stimulation.

2. Restraint in Color and Plant Palettes

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A green and white monochromatic color scheme is always elegant but Karen’s design goes beyond elegant to timeless. She achieves this by focusing primarily on foliage. There are many evergreen trees and shrubs in this vignette with contorted pines playing an important role as they drape gracefully over boulders and fallen logs as well as gracing the pergola itself.

IMG_0743 White hellebores and cyclamen  add floral interest nestled among deer ferns and salal but the planting design is not centered around them.

3. Understanding scale

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This is one of the hardest design criteria to understand and why working with a professional can be so helpful. Notice how Karen balances the hefty timbers of the pergola with bold but clean lined  furniture. How the substantial fireplace anchors the back wall yet is not imposing. How the tall conifers and specimen paper bark maple (seen in the top photo) balance the height of the structure. Every detail  feels ‘right’.

The final details

A subtle secondary water feature

A subtle  water feature adds sound and movement

In truth one could teach a full landscape design class from this garden so trying to sum it up in a few paragraphs is challenging but these are some of the other features I see as hallmarks of Karen’s work

1. Combining textures; soft pine needles brushing against rough, weathered stone. The peeling bark of the paperbark maple set against the smooth planed wood of the pergola. A swathe of round river rocks cutting through square pavers

2. Repetition; the furniture, mantel and chandelier all speak to the same design aesthetic as the pergola itself. Clusters of fat white candles have been used throughout the space for romantic lighting (Lanterns might have introduced a new and unnecessary design element)

3. The unexpected; a trickle of water from the pergola roof drips into a swale of river rocks, the droplets merging and slowly making their way across the patio and into the pool.

Karen is an exceptional designer and is no stranger to awards at the show. This year she once again received a gold medal as well as receiving the Sunset Western Living Award and the 425 Magazine Editors’ Choice Award.

Congratulations also go to colleagues Steve Spear of Complete Landscape Inc for the installation and Bill Ellsbury of Moon Shadows Landscape Lighting.

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