EDIBLES MAKE FLOWERBEDS MORE SENSATIONAL

January 11, 2007
BY GERRIE VAN TOLEDO - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY HARRY FISCHER
Moving to Texas and to Victoria to be near her husband's family in December 2004, van Toledo has become acclimated to gardening in South Texas.
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY GERRIE VAN TOLEDO
Apart from looking attractive and offering a rewarding harvest, produce in the garden will feed the human, and attract birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. As Gerrie van Toledo was weeding between the okra plants in her early fall garden, several beautiful butterflies landed on the flowers - and she captured this shot.
EDIBLES MAKE FLOWERBEDS MORE SENSATIONAL

Vegetables in my flowerbed? And why not? Who says that vegetables have to be planted in neat rows in your garden? When you're planning for your spring, summer and fall garden, get more adventurous and interplant fruit, vegetables and herbs in between flowering shrubs and in your flower borders. It looks nice and will taste good, too.

Fruit, vegetables and herbs are not usually considered when designing a landscape around the house, but when you think about it, these are definitely options.

HOW TO GO ABOUT IT

Using a special type of lettuce (green leaf, red leaf, curly or flat), nice frames can be made around flowerbeds or the lettuce can be made to circle a shrub or tree. Lettuce grows really well in dappled shade.

Different types of cabbages and Swiss chard can be used in a similar way. These are all cool-weather vegetables, so plant them in very early spring or fall.

Peppers and tomatoes can line the walkway up to your front door, and so can okra - especially the miniature and/or purple varieties. Okra forms nice upright plants with decorative leaves and delicate flowers. Okra and peppers tolerate heat very well and will give color to the midsummer garden.

Fragrant herbs lining pathways give off their fragrance when brushed against. And thyme can even be used as a pathway. Thyme tolerates being walked on in moderate amounts and, when you do step on it, it smells very pleasant.

Any tree is an aesthetical and economical addition to your property and in my opinion, a fruit tree is even better. Use them also to shade your house or patio or position them on the north side of your garden to help act as a windbreaker.

Vegetables

Many vegetables can work well in your landscape. Just roam through your garden books and catalogues while it is cold out there and let your imagination go.

Bell peppers and eggplant are vegetables that are easy to grow and form nice-looking shrub-like plants.

Eggplants come in a variety of colors and shapes that add fun to your garden and your dinner plate.

Bell peppers are green at first but turn red when left on the plant a little longer. Some even turn bright yellow! Water them well over the summer and you will have a fall crop in addition to your spring crop.

Pepper plants come in large varieties of color and size. The regular kinds such as "jalapeno" and "habanero" can be found in any garden center as seeds or as little plants.

Lemon drop makes a pretty little plant with little bright yellow peppers. Scotch bonnet produces 1-inch orange and red peppers.

Peppers continue from spring throughout the summer well into fall. Even after the leaves are gone, the peppers hold on and add color to your garden. If you manage to protect them from the cold, they will grow out again the next spring. Actually, I keep some peppers in containers (A 3- to 4-gallon container will do just fine.) and move them indoors when temperatures drop.

If you have a large garden, corn and amaranthus can make a nice backdrop against fences. Corn will make nice plumes, but plant something moderately large in front because they are not very decorative as they get older.

Amaranthus is a heat-loving plant. Sow it in early summer and you will have decorative leaves and flowers. The plant gets to about 5 feet tall. A variety called "cinco de mayo" produces bright red and yellow leaves. Real beauties! The leaves can be harvested when young and used as an alternative for spinach.

Herbs

If you plan to use herbs for cooking, it is a good idea to make a herb area close to your kitchen. Then even when it rains or is chilly, it takes just a few steps out the door to get to your fresh herbs. Or plant under or next to a bench and smell the aroma while you sit and touch the plants.

Some of my favorite herbs that last one season (annuals) and do well in the Victoria area are sweet basil, cilantro, dill and parsley. You can start them from seeds or buy plants in spring from a nursery. My favorite perennials are rosemary, bay (Laurus nobilis), lavender, lemon grass, different types of mint, marjoram and thyme.

Most of these herbs can also be grown in containers. And did you know that you can propagate basil and mint by putting a cutting in a glass of water and then potting it after it grows roots? Using this method I have some fresh basil and mint in my kitchen window year round. It is wonderful.

Those of you who visited the gardens during the annual garden tour may have seen the beautiful bay tree in one of the gardens. It was over 12 feet tall! Don't worry; it takes the small plant that you buy many years to get that big.

Fruit and nuts

Many fruit trees will show beautiful blossoms in spring, and as a bonus you get fruit in summer and fall. Winter is a good time to plant them. The tree is dormant and the roots get time to establish before all the energy goes into new leaves and buds in spring. It is advisable to plant trees before March 1; preferably before Feb. 1.

When planting fruit trees, consider the location carefully. You may not want dropped fruit rotting on your lawn or on your sidewalks. And if space is limited, you may want to consider dwarf fruit trees.

Dwarf varieties of pear, peach, apple and citrus are offered in some local nurseries. They generally tolerate cold better (some possibly down to the mid-20 degrees). An additional advantage of dwarf varieties is that they produce fruit quicker than regular trees. Dwarf citrus fruit also lends itself to container planting, which makes it easier to protect these cold-prone trees by simply putting them inside.

Citrus trees are attractive and have extremely fragrant blossoms. Kumquats are especially attractive because they tend to be in flower or fruit most of the year. Plant these trees on the south side of a wall to protect them from cold north winds.

When selecting a fruit tree, it is advisable to buy from a knowledgeable seller. It may be a little more expensive, but planting a tree is a long-term investment, and good advice on which ones to choose is invaluable. Ask about location, planting procedures, cross-pollination, weed control, watering requirements and fertilization.

The pecan tree, native to Texas and also the state tree, becomes quite large and should only be planted in a large garden. To produce nuts, cross-pollination is a must. This means another tree must be within a maximum of a quarter mile, preferably closer, like within 300 feet.

Fruiting vines also will have blossoms in spring and fruit later in the year. Some, such as blackberry, can be trimmed into good hedges. Others, like grapes, can be led to cover trellises and arbors. If left alone, the vines will form a good hiding place for many birds and other wildlife.

Of course, if you want to know more about all this yourself, why not become a master gardener? Courses start again in August. Call the County Extension Services office at 361-575-4581 if you're interested. This was the best way for me to learn how to garden in Texas. And I love it!