Mostly Edible Garden Report

It’s really a tomato/herbs/cutting garden, but that is kind of an awkward name, so I’m calling it the Mostly Edible Garden.

I was a reluctant vegetable gardener, but Judy wanted to be able to eat our own tomatoes. Farmers’ market tomatoes would have been good enough for me, but marriage is about compromise, so I dug a bed in a sunny spot behind the crabapple tree. The spot is in the front yard, but the crabapple shields passersby from the tawdry sight of my tomato vines.

The tomatoes of 2014 settling in.
The tomatoes of 2014 settling in.

At first I planted five tomato plants, then realized that three were more than enough for the two of us. Every year I like to try one or two new varieties. This year I planted ‘Brandywine’, ‘Black Cherry’ (my favorite cherry tomato), and ‘Cherokee Purple’. I know nothing about ‘Cherokee Purple’, but the name intrigued me. All three tomatoes are growing vigorously despite the cool spring. I train them up wooden trellises that always keel over by the end of the season.


Tithonia seen through a screen of fennel, 2013
Tithonia seen through a screen of fennel, 2013

Then there are the herbs. I divide the herbs into three categories: herbs we actually use a lot, herbs we use occasionally but that are mostly for the butterflies, and herbs that we rarely use but that make the pollinators happy. The herb we use most is basil (Ocimum basilicum). This year, however, I tucked the basil – regular sweet basil, purple basil (O. basilicum purpurescens), Thai basil (O. basilicum ‘Horapha”) – into the containers on the front steps, which makes them even more convenient for picking before dinner. I’ll write about the front containers in another post.

Mexican sunflower growing with tomatoes in last year's garden.
Mexican sunflower growing with tomatoes in last year’s garden. Those are ‘Egyptian Spice’ daylilies growing behind and poking through the trellises.


The herbs we use less frequently are the parsley (Petroselinum crispum), dill (Anethum graveolens), and bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare purpureum). (Why am I bothering to list the Latin names for plants that everybody knows? Because I am a serious garden writer, damn it.) For the dill and fennel, it’s a question of how many of the self-sown plants should I leave. There is no need to plant more.

Flowering dill, 2013.
Flowering dill and fennel, 2013.

Mostly, these plants are there for black swallowtail butterflies (except for the dill). To date the swallowtails have completely ignored my attempts to lure them, the ungrateful wretches.

Thyme in bloom, 2013.
Thyme in bloom, 2013.


The herbs we hardly ever use are the oregano (Origanum vulgare) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Both of these herbs are hardy perennials here, so they require little work, though I do occasionally have to take a pick ax to the oregano to keep it from taking over the entire metropolitan area. I let these herbs take up space mostly because pollinators go wild for the flowers. (The dill and fennel flowers are also good for attracting beneficial insects.)

Tithonia with oregano flowers, 2013.
Tithonia with oregano flowers, 2013.

Last year I planted a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) in the tomato/herb bed. I liked it so much that I’m adding some annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus ‘Italian White’ and ‘Soraya’), and also some tall Zinnias (Zinnia elegans ‘Cut and Cut Again’) making this a tomato/herb/cutting flower bed. I’m excited to see how they all turn out.

But I made an unfortunate discovery: rabbits like sunflower leaves – though they don’t like Tithonia. The rabbits reduced several of my sunflower plants to leafless stems. Since then I’ve been spraying the sunflowers with this repellent that smells like bear piss, and that seems to be working. Also, some of the leafless stems are growing new leaves, so that’s a relief.

An overview of the Mostly Edible Garden.
An overview of the Mostly Edible Garden as of last Saturday.

As of right now this bed doesn’t look like much. The plants haven’t filled in, for one thing, but also I haven’t had time to add mulch. Hope to get to that this weekend.

What are the favorite herbs and cut flowers in your garden?

56 Comments on “Mostly Edible Garden Report”

  1. Love your herb-tomato-flower garden. I grow herbs in pots and take some of them in for the winter–Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (not the parsley), I have the pots on my front south-facing porch steps with Wild blue Indigo on either side of the steps. What is wonderful is that the Wild Blue Indigo and the sage bloom at the same time with the same color iridescent blue flower. Completely unplanned, but well worth while to arrange for it every summer.

  2. I love how you grow your tomatoes! That is just fantastic and creative! And ha! I also enjoyed reading how you divide your herbs into categories! We are doing several different veggies and herbs but have left the tomatoes this year for my pop’s garden as he has a large space. I must admit…I will miss going outside to pick a few on whim! Happy growing and let me know if you guys make it to the Morton Arboretum! Nicole

  3. It’s nice to have a corner of the garden just for edibles – your corner looks very nice and seems to fit in with your garden overall. I tried making a “corner” last year, but it just didn’t look right in the middle of my flowers, so all my herbs are now mixed in with the flowers or are in pots. I grow basil and parsley in small containers and we use those two most.Then fennel, rosemary, chives, thyme and bay are also used a lot, but I rarely use the sage, oregano or tarragon. The bees seem to love the oregano though, and it does look nice when flowering. Good luck with the sunflowers… the snails had mine for lunch. 😦

  4. A lovely idea to grow sunflowers and Tithonia with your herbs and tomatoes. I wish I could grow tomatoes outside. Don’ t yours get blight? And how come you can grow basil without it getting eaten by slugs and snails? I’ ve had three attempts to grow basil and dill this year. Every scrap has disappeared.
    I think your mostly edible garden is lovely.
    And keep up with the Latin, it’s great. International language and all that. You even use the italics, you being a proper serious garden writer. OK, we all know the common names for herbs or erbs as you Americans call them, but I’ m often baffled by plant names on American blogs.

  5. I’ve grown Brandy wine (red and yellow) and Cheroke Purple for the last two summers, but maybe they need American bees as I never get good pollination, but I also cram in way too many plants so maybe the bees can’t get at the flowers, I’ll be interested to see how you get on with yours.

  6. I also like zinnias, the birds and bees like them. Nasturtiums and alyssum are also regulars. I’d love to grow nigella (which is supposed to be easy to grow) but hardly any of the seeds germinate. Try using chipped up pine branches/needles to deter slugs. We chip up our Christmas tree each spring, and it smells fantastic too.

  7. Last year I had ten kinds of heirloom tomato from seed — the black and purple kinds have wonderful flavor. Root-knot nematodes in our southern soil forced me back to VFN Hybrids this year. There is an heirloom volunteer in the front garden that I will encourage for the inevitable ‘tommy toes’ such fun to pick and eat off the vine.

    Give Swallowtails more time; it’s early yet. They’ll find your Tithonia when it makes a big, blooming magnet plant.

  8. You’ve made a good choice, Jason! I love tomatoes cherry, as well. I always grow them because they have enough time to ripen when the summer is so short. Your herbs are all edible, I love dill and parsley with tomatoes and cucumbers. I have planted basil too but do not often eat it. Have a nice garden day!

  9. I just love fresh herbs for cooking. It is funny you mentioned sunflowers because I was just at another blog that mentioned them, too.
    As I mentioned there it seems like everyone in my neighborhood planted sunflowers this year. I don’t know if I only just noticed their popularity or maybe it is a fad. I am really admiting them. So much variety and they all look so happy — if flowers can do that kind of thing.

  10. I couldn’t imagine not growing my own food and herbs, no matter what I always have to have herbs and potatoes. Goodness…the sunflower repellent sounds the business, hopefully you two can’t smell it!!! I shall look forward to seeing those toms!xxx

  11. Hi Jason, I was given squash seeds earlier this year and they all germinated and although I’ve got room for the 12 plants, it’s not necessarily prepared for planting, I think I’m going to have to do a make-shift border. I hope your sunflowers recover and continue to grow well. I’ve put many in the front border as a solution to the, “I need something cheap, quick and spectacular to fill that gap” problem. They should flower with the mystery dahlias and that could make for an unusual picture.

  12. I love that your vegetable garden is in your front yard. Go where the sun and space is! Glad no one complains, people can get funny about things. The Mexican sunflower is really people. I’ll have to look for some. Since I had extra room this year, I added a bunch of sunflowers. Haven’t grown them in years, So far, they look super healthy. I grow far more herbs than I use, just because I like the idea of the them. I mostly use the basil, mint and parsley, sometimes dill and rosemary. I’m working on the cutting garden idea.

  13. This year I have a single ‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomato plant in a huge pot. Last year I grew ‘Yellow Brandywine’, which was tasty but stingy with the tomatoes. I also grow parsley and fennel for the swallowtails, basil and rosemary for us, thyme because it’s beautiful and oregano, chives, and lavender for the bees. Zinnias are a staple here. This year I grew 9 different varieties under grow lights. Oh yeah, here’s the Latin on grow lights (Growus lightus). Looking forward to meeting you in Portland! 🙂

  14. The bad winter killed my years-old oregano plant so I have to get a new one. As of last week I was still looking for new growth because I just couldn’t believe something that voracious could be killed. I am trying to grow bush beans in pots on the back porch – planning to tether the vines to the railing. We has seeds left over from Niall’s spring science experiment so I thought I’d give it a try.

  15. Wonderful! I love planting flowers and herbs among my veggies. I am also growing Brandywine. I love the Mexican Sunflowers and will now plant every year. Yes, I know those rabbits love Sunflower sprouts. I am glad yours are making a comeback. I am also using a repellent spray this year and so far so good. I have lettuce!

  16. Your edible garden is lovely with the herbs and flowers mixed it. I think you have shown great restraint with 3 tomato plants for the two of you. I’m growing all of your varieties plus a couple more…you are going to love the Cherokee Purple, it has a great tomato flavor. Each year I say I’m not going to plant so many but I’ve 18 plants. My husband and I will be eating tomatoes daily by August. 🙂

  17. I’m with you..tons of basil. The other herbs are there for pollinators, flowers and if I remember I am growing them to use them. I wish I could successfully grow heirloom tomato varieties but they mostly succumb to some disease…I love Black Cherry as my fav cherry tomato.

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