Sometimes it is difficult to know just where to begin, especially when you are new to gardening. Themed gardens are one way to jump-start the garden planning process.
Garden planning basics
Before you start designing your garden, landscape, or foodscape, there is some important information you will want to have on hand:
Creating a garden plan
Planning a garden can feel overwhelming. Sometimes, the best way to start is to simply select one type of plant, often tomatoes, and grow from there. A single potted tomato, however, is not going to transform your landscape. You can also go to the other end of that spectrum and learn about landscape design, using boundaries, lines, surfaces, forms, texture, color, art, furnishings, and lighting to create your masterpiece. Somewhere between those two extremes is a balance of what you want, what you have the time to maintain, and what plants need to stay healthy. To help you pull your garden together and select plants, you may decide on using a garden theme.
Types of themed gardens
Traditionally, themed gardens have been classified by either a geographic location, a type of terrain, or a historical prototype. Using a theme narrows down your options and pushes you to be more creative. Some traditional garden themes include:
But, there is another way of looking at themed gardens. You can create your own themed garden to create a favorite dish or holiday meal, or it may be a children’s garden, an herb garden, or an edible storybook garden. Having a theme can help guide you with plant selection. Today, we will look at some common edible garden themes, the plants that might be used in those gardens, and maybe a little garden art, just for fun.
Salad gardens are very rewarding, because lettuce and other greens and radishes tend to grow quickly. There are a rich variety of salad greens available, red loose leaf, pale green curly endive, buttery Bibb lettuce, upright cos or Romaine lettuce, dark green spinach, and many more. You can also add color to your salads with rainbow Swiss chard, with brilliant red, pink, white, and yellow stems that can be sliced up just like celery. Oh, yes, and you can grow celery. And cucumbers, sweet peppers, carrots, artichokes, corn, dandelion greens, mustard greens, fennel, jicama, and kale can also be used in a salad-themed garden. You can even add a dwarf almond tree for some slivered almonds on top of that salad. If you prefer your vegetables stir-fried, a stir-fry garden makes it simple to throw together a flavorful, healthy, fresh-from-the-garden meal. Carrots, onions, garlic, cilantro, bell peppers, hot peppers, even your own saffron can all be grown at home.
Introducing children to gardening at an early age is an excellent way to get them outside, away from technology, and physically active. A children’s garden nearly always features fast growing, dramatic plants, such as a fort made out of sunflowers, or a pole bean teepee. Children also enjoy fragrant edibles, such as chocolate mint and lemon thyme, and fast growing radishes. Unique plants, such as golfball-sized Parisian carrots, and cucumbers that look like miniature watermelons (Mexican sour gherkins), can add whimsy and fun to your children’s garden. Favorites, such as strawberries, blueberries, and cherry tomatoes can create a magical play area, filled with delicious, healthy edibles that create curving paths, secret hideaways, and storybook reminders.
Aside from the meat and cheese, you can grow pretty much every other ingredient used to make a pizza. You can grow tomatoes, onions, and garlic, for the sauce, along with herbs, such as basil, oregano, and thyme. You can also grow sweet red, green, orange, and yellow peppers, hot peppers, and artichokes for your pizza. If you like, you can even grow your own olive tree in a container, and a patch of wheat, for the crust. And if pizza isn’t your thing, you can pick a different dish, and create your own garden theme using those ingredients.
A storybook garden is a delightful way to add art and whimsy to a landscape. Designing, installing, and caring for a storybook garden is an excellent children’s activity, as well. Nearly all traditional children’s stories can be used to create a storybook garden: Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden are popular favorites, but you can use any book you like that has edible plant references.
Herb gardens are attractive, tenacious, and rewarding. Except for basil, most herbs will continue to grow for many years. Rosemary, lavender, and thyme add fragrance, flavor, and beauty wherever they grow. Members of the mint family, oregano, lemon balm, summer savory, marjoram, and sage are best grown in containers, due to their tendency to spread. You can also add chives, cilantro, and tarragon to an herb garden. You may want to add a nice place to sit and enjoy a good book. It’s going to smell so lovely, you’ll want to stick around.
Holiday dinner garden
What if you could create a traditional Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other holiday meal from your own backyard? You can. If you plan ahead, you can harvest an abundance of many popular holiday meal ingredients: beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, peas, beans, sweet potatoes, pearl onions, fennel, tomatoes, and spinach are just a few of the possibilities. Sage, basil, oregano, parsley, and mint can also be grown for holiday meals. Whatever traditions your family celebrates, you can create a garden patch that saves you a trip to the grocery store and gives you full bragging rights.
Fruit cocktail garden
You may have seen grafted fruit cocktail trees available through garden catalogs. These dwarf trees usually feature nectarines, peaches, plums, and apricots, all on the same tree. You can flesh out your fruit cocktail garden with potted raspberries, blackberries, currants, and strawberries, and then surround the whole thing with a small blueberry hedge. Imagine all that sweet deliciousness in one place.
Put aside images of a serene, manicured Japanese tea garden and imagine, instead, growing your own tea. Tea plants (Camellia sinensis) can be grown outdoors in Zones 8 - 12, or indoors year round. But, this traditional black tea is not the only plant grown for its use as a tea. If you love tea, you know that you can also enjoy chamomile, mint, and lavender tea. Other options for a tea garden include lemon balm, jasmine, coriander, bergamot, hibiscus, elderberries, ginger, rose hips, raspberry and blackberry leaves, licorice, lemon grass, blackcurrants, dill, and dandelions can also be used to make tea.
The more pollinators that visit your garden, the more likely you are to have a good sized harvest. You can attract bees, butterflies, honey bees, and many other beneficial insects with brilliant blooms of borage, salvia, and butterfly bush, and by allowing many common food plants to go through their complete lifecycle. Carrots, caraway, celery, chervil, cilantro, cumin, parsnips, dill, fennel, and parsley are all umbellifers. Umbellifers have umbrella-shaped flowers that beneficial insects love. Allowing lettuces, Swiss chard, and others to go to seed also provides nectar and pollen for these beneficials, as well as hummingbirds. The changing shape, colors, textures, and sizes of these plants keeps your landscape interesting. Just be sure to provide a water source for all these tiny helpers. A birdbath or small fountain is all that’s needed. Just be sure to clean them, every once in a while.
Rather than leave creating that garden for some distant future date, pick a patch of ground today. Select your theme and cover the area with some aged compost while you choose your plants and your design. In no time at all, you will be enjoying the fruits (or vegetables and herbs) of your labor!
What’s your garden theme?
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!