Converting sunny border to edible landscape

jenn(SoCal 9/19)September 6, 2011

I am planning to convert large sections of a sunny border in our backyard into edible landscaping. Currently it has some large bare spots and we are running out of sunny areas for growing sun-loving edibles.

This border is about 4-5 feet deep X about 30 feet long. I would like grow some veggies and herbs in square or rectangular patches along this border (my own version of square-foot gardening). This border gets all-day sun in front of a short block retaining wall.

Except for a few herbs, peppers and tomatoes, I'm relatively new to this and plan to start simple and learn as I go. I know about amending the soil well, rotating crops, keeping the weeds out, etc. We garden organically and the birds do a good job of picking off the worms and other pests -- we've never seen a single worm on any of our tomatoes -- and we have a large compost pile. I'm retiring this fall and will have lots of time to devote to the garden. I ordered some seeds from Renee's Garden Seeds to start later this month.

I want to include some compatible plants (perennials/annuals) amongst the edibles such as Agastache rupestris. What are your favorites? Any words of wisdom from experience? Favorite books or other resources?

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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

What a great idea, Jenn! You might want to think about maybe putting in a citrus tree or two, to give parts of this area some shade that might be good for growing lettuce. As long as what you put under the citrus isn't too demanding, the citrus tree wouldn't mind. Things to grow should cycle through with the seasons. You can keep your herbs going all year long, and the great thing about herbs is just by using them, they stay in check from the constant cutting or tip-pinching. Renee's Garden is my "go to" seed company, I love their varieties. And, a great couple of books to recommend for what you want to do:
"52 Weeks in the California Garden" by Robert Smaus
"Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles"
"Edible Gardening for Southern California", by Alison Beck
"Pat Welsh's Southern California Organic Gardening", by Pat Welsch.

Those are my books I like to use. I may also pick up "The Edible Garden" by Sunset just because it's like $7.00, and probably geared towards us in California, and has some practical suggestions for incorporating edibles in the landscape.

I used to always grow marigolds in my veggie garden, but for here, I might put in Society Garlic, as much as I despise the smell because it does help to repel gophers. Any plants that attract pollinators, but not pests (like for me, snails & slugs) is a plus. I have several different salvia in my garden, as it is a huge pollinator attractor. Also, adding some prostrate rosemary that might creep down over the the border is also great, since for me, it is always covered with bees. Same with my lavendar - love the smell, and it is great for attracting pollinators.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 4:07PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

I like to plant herbs with my veggies. Yarrow, nasturtiums, oregano, thyme, marjoram, and rosemary are my favorite companions for veggies.

Garlic is very pretty too. I like the real deal instead of society garlic, because it does not smell as strange to me. I just plant old cloves.

This year I had some rudbeckias bloom in the veggie garden, and it was very pretty.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 2:17AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

The Agastache 'Acapulco' cultivars are really outstanding, better than the species. High Country sells them, but I got mine at Lowe's.

If you can grow tomatoes everything else is as easy. Watch for aphids on Broccoli, and forget Cauliflower as it wants consistent cool temperatures. One two-day heat wave and it's ruined. (Been there, done that).

A dwarf Citrus is a nice thing to have, and figs too if you like figs. The homegrown ones are out of this world delicious, though you will need bird netting.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 7:00PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

Thank you all for your suggestions.

Patty: I have the "52 Weeks.." book and like it very much, but don't have the others. I'll see if I can find them at the library (for starters).

Renee: I plan to add Rudbeckias; do you have a favorite that's easy to grow?

Hoovb: I LOVE Agastaches but few of them love our clay soil so I plan to try some this year in pots with a gritty mix, and 'Acapulco' looks like one to try. Thanks for the tip on Cauliflower.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 9:53AM
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Be sure to leave room around your veggies so you can reach to harvest things. Being against a fence leaves you 3 sides to walk around.

Try a dwarf Meyer lemon. It doesn't take much space and is used a lot in cooking. Tarragon, thyme, rosemary and oregano last a long time. Basil is seasonal, but well worth including. Borrage is supposed to be a good companion plant for tomatoes.

I put in a veggie garden against the fence because it's the only place that gets sun in the winter. If you want to grow fall or winter veggies, I'd recommend bok choy. Broccoli is easy to grow, but it gets rather large.

Here is a link that might be useful: What's Growing On?

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 2:35PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

lgteacher: Thanks for the suggestion to leave space. Actually the border is backed by a short retaining wall (3 feet tall) and I always allow space with stepping stones to walk around plants in this border. BTW, love your blog -- I'll bookmark it later from home. One of my plans after I retire later this year is to start a photo journal blog for my large volume of garden pics.

With respect to a Meyer Lemon, we have one growing in a pot (which we'll plant later in fall) but unless it's grown in a pot it will get too big for this border -- again, the border is only 4 feet wide and I think a Meyer Lemon will reach double that size and hang over the lawn quite a bit, getting in the way of mowing the lawn. It may also block sunlight from some of the shorter roses at the top of the wall.

I suppose we could grow citrus in a large pot in this border and run a drip line to it; that's where we used to grow the Kumquat in a very large pot.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 3:15PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

I agree with the dwarf Meyer, but it you already have a Meyer, consider a dwarf mandarin, as they tend to stay compact to start with. Four Winds Growers grows dwarf citrus on Flying Dragon rootstock, so they stay very small. Perfect for your bed. Plus, it's not a sin to prune a citrus as needed. Just try to do it before it sets blossoms, so you don't cut off your future fruits. That will help provide some shade for things like lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, peas - your early veggies (or we can luckily grow them in winter). Or in large pots next to the bed, too. That would give the area some decorative appeal. Post up some photos for us so we can see the bed. This sounds like it will be very nice!

Patty S.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 4:36PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

Thanks Patty.

OK, here's a photo of the border so you can see its depth and location relative to the lawn and the roses above it. It's not a good photo (there was a mild breeze) and things don't look good right now since I currently have a bad elbow which prevents me from doing much gardening.

The plants in front of the wall (from right to left) include Sunflower 'Teddy Bear' (annual), Rose 'Playboy', Salvia 'Anthony Parker' (proportionately too big for this spot; needs pruning); David Austin rose 'Lilian Austin' (badly needs deadheading), Border Penstemon, and Verbena.

Sometimes I'm tempted to remove all of it and start over from scratch. Any suggestions are welcome!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 4:08PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Oh, pretty, pretty, pretty!! Okay, I would say 3 dwarf citrus, one one each end, one in the middle. Lots of options for citrus, depending upon what you like. Some citrus tend to be more upright and compact - 'Gold Nugget' mandarin (I high recommend this citrus tree), 'Pixie' mandarin, Ponkan mandarin, Indo Mandarinquat, Meiwa kumquat, Variegated calomondin to name just a few. Again, get them on Flying Dragon rootstock if you want them to stay really small. Four Winds Growers has nearly all of these varieties. I love the 'Teddy Bear' sunflower, and I'd keep growing those, perfect plant for that area, just really lovely. Place them interspersed. Then add in some tomatoes, peppers, an upright rosemary (like 'Tuscan Blue' which is an excellent upright rosemary with nice big blue flowers), Basil (try both a green and a purple variety, mine make it through most of winter), maybe a couple of variegated sage plants ('Golden' sage), and then under your citrus, lettuce, spinach, and you can even thing about peas (in the spring of course) on bamboo tee pees. And if you can squeeze them in, Japanese eggplants. You can put some Thyme in the front since it stays low. Some of this of course will have to wait until next spring, but you can still plant peppers, even winter tomatoes (I have 'Siberian' and "Manitoba' heirloom tomatoes in pots going right now, along with 'Anaheim', 'Fresno' and 'Sweet Banana' going right now. I love intensive plantings, and a crowded look, but you've got plenty of space for all that!!

Patty S.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 12:22AM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

Patty, thank you for the wonderful suggestions. I may need to move some of the plants already in that border; I wish it was completely bare so I could start from scratch.

The 'Teddy Bear' Sunflower reminds me of Cousin It -- so cute!

Now I'm going to research your citrus and tomato suggestions!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 1:09PM
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