Guest Rant by Tom Fischer, an editor at Timber Press who is also an author and a delightful person to hang out with. Tom is the author of a new book called Perennial Companions: 100 Dazzling Plant Combinations for Every Season. Stick around and find out how to win a copy at the end of this post.
In case you’ve been on Mars for the last few years, let me be the first to break the news: your neighbors, your boss, your mom, the Obamas, and everyone on your bowling team is starting a vegetable garden. I hope they all have a wonderful time and harvest tons of vegetables. And I hope the nice people who sell vegetable seeds make a fortune. Me, I’m sticking to the ornamentals.
OK, not totally. I have an herb garden, because I like to cook and it steams the hell out of me to pay $2.99 for a bunch of basil. And I have one small fig tree and two pineapple guavas, because, you know, fresh figs and guavas. But that’s as far as it’s going. My yard isn’t that big, so space is at a premium. The soil is decent and well drained, and most areas get a nice amount of sun. I’m sure tomatoes would do well, if I planted some. But do you know what also does well? Delphiniums and lavender and clematis and lilies and crocosmias and coppery sedges and adorable small shrubs and lots and lots of other things. I can buy beautiful tomatoes at our farmer’s market; a mature ceanothus in full bloom, not so much.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be either/or. Maybe I could mingle edible crops among the ornamentals. But I’ve
noticed that most edible crops don’t look so hot once they’ve finished bearing. I face design challenges enough without having to worry about what to put in the gap left by the broccoli raab.
Also, I worry that, in the rush to reap our own arugula, we may be neglecting those heroic plantspeople who scour the globe in search of botanical gems. They deserve our support as much as the admirable folks who have preserved open-pollinated heirloom kohlrabi varieties. So the seedlings under my grow-lights this spring include Chinese gentians from Mojmir Pavelka, western irises from Ron Ratko (you can request his seedlist by e-mailing him), rare Andean alpines from Jim and Jenny Archibald. The motto on the Chiltern Seeds catalog is “Grow something new from seed.” I say, grow lots of new somethings from seed, and make sure some of them have nice flowers.
Yes, we need to encourage more people to garden. Gardening is good, whether you’re raising roses or rutabagas.
And I love a plateful of cavolo nero braised in extra-virgin olive oil with green garlic tops as much as the next red-blooded American. But my fellow gardeners, let us not forget that we need to feed the soul as well as the body.