Monday, July 8, 2013

When is a vegetable garden not a vegetable garden?

When it's a flower garden, of course.

When we first moved to Mucky Boots I was a little impatient with all the flowers the previous owners had planted in the vegetable garden. Yarrow, poppies, roses, lavender, butterfly bushes, daisies. What the heck were they all doing there, I wondered. Sure, they were pretty, but I was set on being a practical, productive Serious Vegetable Gardener, and they were taking up valuable real estate.

After a year or two, once I had learned a thing or two, I realized all those flowers were attracting the pollinators to the garden. I had them to thank for all the peas, beans, tomatoes, squash, melons and cucumbers we ate. So my impatience turned into appreciation for the job the flowers were doing.

Now I don't care about what sort of function those flowers perform: I'm in love with how beautiful they are, and that's enough for me. Beauty is enough. What a revelation.

My herb bed is full of borage volunteers. I'm amazed they're there, because I haven't planted any in the vegetable garden for a couple of years.

The mallow growing in the same bed is in its third year of self seeding. I don't have to do any work at all (other than recognizing a mallow seedling when I see one, so I don't weed it out by mistake) and look at what I am given.

Remember what I said about having second thoughts about giving poppies a free ride and retracting my offer to let them grow wherever they are inclined to? Well I'm like the Fiddler on the Roof, thinking it out again, because I'm back to whole hearted infatuation. These poppies (and their friends the calendula) have made themselves at home in a bed that's supposed to belong to three blueberry bushes. I check periodically on the blueberries, to make sure they're not being smothered. They aren't - they're being beautifully adorned instead.

There are three rose plants in the vegetable garden. They mystify me. I thought roses were supposed to be fussy, demanding plants requiring dedicated care. All I do is hack them back in the fall, and they repay me by  looking beautiful all summer.

This all signals a change in how I view my vegetable garden. Our first growing season I was so focused on squirrelling food away Kim could barely get a few strawberries in her mouth before I was yanking them away to freeze for the winter. I canned and pickled and froze, and realized that while it was nice to have that food in storage, there are only so many pickles one can eat, and frozen vegetables are always a poor second compared with fresh. So I have gradually relaxed about preserving food and focused instead on eating as much fresh from the garden as we can, and growing vegetables that can either overwinter in the garden (like carrots, beets, and hardy greens) or store well (like onions and garlic). All of which means the pressure to grow as much as possible has been eased, so there is more room in my garden for all those beautiful flowers.

And there's more room in my heart, too. That's a Mucky Boots miracle.


Stephanie said...

Thanks for the tip on the flowers.

Paula said...

I think I need more flowers too, besides the marigolds.

But not flagrant self-sowers like poppies and borage!! (although borage is a great bee forage- it even rhymes!)

Alison said...

I think I've just realized that part of the attraction gardening holds for people like us (ie educators) is that there is always more to learn. That, and our deep-seated drive to control the uncontrollable. :)

Lindsey at NW Backyard Veggies said...

Oh, I put a bunch of borage, calendula and poppies (from YOU) in my new garden this year knowing that they would seed out like crazy in the coming years.

I LOVE that mallow - I've got one in the front yard that sends out baby plants like you wouldn't believe. I just dig 'em up and transplant them everywhere - so cool.

Gosh, your garden is legit. Nice work, teach.

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