Guest Rant by Robin Ripley of the Bumblebee Blog
The news media tell us that Americans are returning to the
land in their own back yards. On weekends, we trot off to the local garden
centers to indulge our newly-found enthusiasm for grocery gardening. Recession
be damned! We’re planting vegetables!
But there’s a dark side to all this happy tomato talk and we
need to get it out in the open.
Some of my fellow gardeners have committed—or are about to
commit—vegetable garden planting, maintenance and design treason.
I’m talking about ugly, unsightly vegetable gardens.
There are would-be gardeners out there who practice the plunk-and-plant
method rather than properly identifying the best location for each plant and
enriching the soil with compost. They fail to weed early and often—or to weed
at all—so weeds thrive and invite their friends. Soon, there are as many
unwanted as wanted plants in the garden. That sets up the ideal environment for
opportunistic pests and diseases to move in.
The trespasses don’t stop there.
These gardeners give little or no thought to overall vegetable
garden design. Rows rule! They fail to consider how they will navigate narrow
pathways or reach into the center of large beds for maintenance, reinforcing
their excuse to avoid maintenance altogether. Everything is low and flat to the
ground. Even the indeterminate tomatoes are horizontal because they failed to
be contained by the two-foot-tall sorry excuse for tomato cages these gardeners
bought at Wal-Mart.
There are no edible flowers for color. There is no art or
ornamentation. Heck, there’s nowhere to sit!
These garden crimes are most acute in the vegetable
gardening world because people set aside significant chunks of ground for the
specific purpose of growing vegetables. The vegetable gardening offenders start
all at once (however badly) and then stop. Potential growers of flowers and
ornamentals usually wade in slowly. Their gardens grow in size and momentum in
proportion to their prowess with a hoe, so you hardly ever see a neglected
I don’t want to suggest that the average weekend gardener
now needs to hire a fancy designer to put in a vegetable patch. But is it too
much to ask that if you’re going to plant vegetables that you at least take
care of them? All of these ugly vegetable gardens are giving us respectable
vegetable gardeners a bad name. Frankly, it’s no wonder that homeowners
associations have banished vegetable gardens in their neighborhoods. If
gardeners are going to approach grocery gardening in that lackadaisical way, I
suggest they find another hobby.
Don’t get me wrong. My own garden has the random unlovely
patch. Last year my tomatoes succumbed to fusarium wilt. A merciless drought
took a toll on the garden (and the gardener with the water hose) a couple of
years ago. Sometimes my pet chickens sneak in and stir things up. My garden
gets weeds too.
When that happens, I move into action. If I’m feeling
particularly overwhelmed by it all, I call out the reluctant reinforcements.
(That would be my husband.) We will pull out the unsalvageable and disguise the
merely unsightly with moveable container plantings so that even when there are
unlovely corners, the overall effect is, I think, still pleasing. Above all, we
Vegetable gardens can be places of great joy and beauty as
well as great bounty. I am proud of being a vegetable gardener. But the dark
side of grocery gardening is a shadow on all vegetable gardeners.
Robin Ripley is a
garden and food writer whose special interest is in designing gardens that both
produce food and improve the beauty of the landscape. She lives on a small Maryland homestead where
in addition to caring for her potager, she raises and cares for small dogs,
chickens and a grouchy cat. She makes as much by hand as possible, from bread
to cheese to wine to pastries. She is co-author of the book Grocery Gardening by Cool Springs Press.
Photo by Daniel
Gasteiger of Your Small Kitchen Garden