I’ve been suffering a garden identity crisis throughout the last few summers, craving more flowers, more beauty, more vistas, yet wanting to grow edibles in a big way. What’s a garden boy to do? Enter the full-frontal vegetable gardening approach.
Now, believe me, I find a traditional, full-on vegetable garden beautiful. You know, the square plots of tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn, bordered by marigolds, often tucked in the back corner of the yard. But, I also find veggies so lovely, I want them scattered throughout my ornamentals, where I can see them and enjoy them. Plus, as a tree-addicted urban forester, I am in the constant search for pockets of sun in my overplanted city lot for my vegetables of choice to bask in.
Full-frontal vegetable gardening is the art of bringing edibles out of the shadows of the garden and placing them front and center. It is also the act of searching out the little shafts of light that create full sun pockets in your growing spaces. Look for the area where the sun creates a circle of light, like a spotlight shining down on a stage, putting a cabbage or cauliflower or beet patch center stage.
Here are a few things I’ve picked up on my full-frontal vegetable gardening journey:
Red Malabar or vine spinach, Basella alba ‘Rubra,’ is incredibly ornamental and magically delicious. It’s actually not true spinach as we know it, which works well in the full-frontal garden, as climbing spinach loves the long, hot summer and only gets more lovely and yummy as the hot days drone on. It’s native to India, where its a staple in local cuisine. It’s a strong spinach taste, almost earthy, and is lovely added to a salad or used in cooking, like and omelette or stir-fry. Some have reported it’s a little too strong for them, but I think that we’ve only forgotten what real, fresh from the earth veggies taste like.
Beets beat meat. While you’re waiting for your beets to come into their own underground, the greens make a lovely contrasting texture in the flower bed and I have found that beets do just fine in part sun. You can grow them in part shade, even, where the beets may not get as robust, but the greens stay small and tender and are a real treat in a salad. You have your own little micro-greens growing in the flower bed.
Swiss chard is just loaded with vitamins, especially Vitamin A.– one cup of it gives you 40% of your daily recommended amount. The ‘Rainbow’ mix, which I believe is actually a blend of red, golden and Swiss chard is a standout in the garden border and boosts the face value of any patch its planted in. It’s spinach-like, though it stands up to the heat of summer better. That said, it does well to be a little shaded and if you plant it among ornamental grasses, it gets a little relief with the shade cast on it. It takes a good amount of shade and it’s color is a little beacon in the garden.
I believe a garden-grown cauliflower has a taste completely different than a store-bought one and the best part of growing them out front and center is the unfurling of the head as it grows. It is pure garden theatre. It’s magical. Cauliflower will grow in full sun, part-sun and part-shade.
Tomato-growing rivals baseball as everyone’s favorite summer sport. If your front yard is where the sun is at, then you need to be growing your tomatoes there. People ooh and aaah at the site of tomatoes — they’ve got the face value of any flower you could name. If you still aren’t convinced, try one of the new brightly painted tomato cages you see at the stores.
In a nutshell, tomatoes need sun, sun, sun. Consistent watering and a good base of organic matter and well-drained soil also set you up for success. Be proud of your tomatoes and don’t hide them in the back behind the wood pile. Get them out front and center. Go to my website to read my full article on tomato growing and get out there, full-frontal and grow, grow, grow.