One of the many attractions of gardening is that you can play with it. We are not limited to the furrowed rows of earlier generations. You can be as creative as local growing conditions and the needs of your plants will allow. Deciding on a theme is one way to pull your garden together artistically or aesthetically.
Themes provide a unifying framework, a story, and a uniqueness to your garden, and they can be a lot of fun. They are more artistic than simply how you grow your plants. Garden themes make it easy to decide which plants work best in a landscape, a raised bed, or even a single container, by providing a long-term, broader perspective on that space.
You can create a theme based on flower color, leaf shape, or even a particular shade of green. You can create a garden theme that takes advantage of a shady corner, transforming it from a seldom used, mostly wasted space into a storybook hideaway, complete with peek-a-boo elf statues and a reading chaise lounge. [More lemonade, please!] Or, you can create a theme around a favorite book or movie, a sensory garden, or a copycat garden. Garden themes can be whimsical or more practical. Rain gardens are one type of more utilitarian garden theme.
Before you start your garden design, we should consider some garden planning basics. Information you will want to have on hand as you select your plants includes:
Creating a garden plan
Planning a garden can feel overwhelming. Sometimes, the best way to start is to select one type of plant, often tomatoes, and grow from there. A single potted tomato, however, will not transform your landscape.
You can also go to the other end of that spectrum and learn about landscape design, using boundaries, surfaces, forms, texture, color, art, and lighting to create your masterpiece. Somewhere in 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. A theme can help pull your garden together.
Types of themed gardens
Traditionally, themed gardens were classified by geographic location, terrain, or historical prototype. Using a theme narrows 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 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 included in those gardens, and maybe a little garden art, just for fun.
Butterfly gardens and pollinator gardens
The more pollinators visit your garden, the bigger your harvest will be. 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 food plants to go through their complete lifecycle. Carrots, caraway, celery, chervil, cilantro, cumin, parsnips, dill, fennel, and parsley are 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 beneficial insects and hummingbirds. These plants will change shape, color, texture, and size over the course of a year, keeping 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.
Children’s gardens encourage kids to be active and eat healthier foods. They can also inspire a lifelong love of gardening. Children love plants that they can touch, taste, and smell. Feathery yarrow, creeping chocolate mint, sweet cherry tomatoes, and towering fennel fronds are all edible and easy to grow. A child’s garden nearly always features fast-growing, dramatic plants, such as a fort made out of sunflowers or a pole bean teepee.
Unique plants, such as golfball-sized Parisian carrots and cucumbers that look like miniature watermelons (Mexican sour gherkins) add whimsy and fun to your children’s garden. Favorites, like strawberries, blueberries, and groundcherries, can create a magical play area filled with delicious, healthy edibles, curving paths, secret hideaways, and storybook reminders.
[You may be surprised to discover that most children love the taste of spinach when they have grown it themselves…]
Fruit cocktail gardens
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 surround the whole thing with a blueberry hedge. Imagine all that sweet deliciousness in one place!
Gift gardens are spaces dedicated to growing gift plants. Flowers, herbs, and succulents all make lovely presents. One type of planting forward, gift gardens provide the space (and reminders) needed to have that perfect gift ready when you need a handy gift. Maintaining a gift garden ensures you will always be prepared for those special occasions.
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 invasive behavior. You can 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 gardens
Nothing says gardener like fresh Brussels sprouts and baby beets at Thanksgiving, fresh greens at Easter, and juicy watermelon on July 4th. If you plan, you can harvest many popular holiday meal ingredients right when you need them. Beans, beets, carrots, fennel, onions, pearl onions, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes are just a few possibilities. Sage, basil, oregano, parsley, and mint can also be grown for your holiday meals. Whatever traditions your family celebrates, your holiday dinners garden can save you a trip to the grocery store and give you full bragging rights.
Pizza gardens are fun. Imagine a round garden space, cut into wedge-shaped sections and planted with popular pizza ingredients. Aside from the meat and cheese, you can grow nearly every other pizza ingredient at home. Tomatoes, onions, and garlic make the sauce, along with fragrant herbs, such as basil, oregano, and thyme. You can also grow sweet red, green, orange, and yellow peppers, hot peppers, zucchini and other summer squash, and artichokes for your pizza. If you like, you can even grow an olive tree in a container, and a patch of wheat or cauliflower for the crust. If pizza isn’t your thing, you can pick a different dish and create your garden theme using those ingredients. Stir fry garden, anyone?
Salad gardens are very rewarding because lettuce and other greens and radishes grow quickly. Salad greens, including red looseleaf, pale green curly endive, buttery Bibb lettuce, upright cos or Romaine lettuce, and dark green spinach, add color and texture to your garden. You can also perk up your salads with ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, with its brilliant red, pink, white, and yellow stems sliced like celery. Oh, yes, and you can grow celery. Your salad garden can include cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, artichokes, corn, dandelion greens, mustard greens, fennel, jicama, and kale . You can even add a dwarf almond tree for some slivered almonds on top of that salad. If you prefer 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, and even your saffron can all be grown at home.
Storybook gardens are 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, too. Any traditional children’s stories can inspire 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 that includes edible plant references.
Put aside images of a serene, manicured Japanese tea garden and imagine, instead, growing your tea. Tea plants (Camellia sinensis) can be grown outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 - 12 or indoors year-round. But, this traditional black tea is not the only plant grown for its use as a tea. 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.
Pick a patch of ground today and cover it with aged compost or arborist wood chips. As you select your theme and start choosing plants, worms and microorganisms will be busy working to improve your soil. Before you know it, you will be enjoying the fruits (or vegetables and herbs) of your labor!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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