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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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?