The smart gardener chooses to fill the garden with vegetables and fruit the family wants to eat. But if that’s where things stop, family gardeners are missing out on the fullness of gardening joy. Around here, we employ a couple of tricks to make gardening even more of a pleasure than it already is.
Plant Something New
We look for at least one new-to-us item to grow each year. Gardening is all about experimenting and learning by doing, anyway. So why not take a chance on something unknown, some unusual garden crops. All it takes is reserving some little corner of the garden for the new and unexpected. Who knows? You may find a new favorite. What about kohlrabi, which looks like it came from another planet? Or lemon cucumbers or ground cherries or yard-long beans? Garden catalogs are full of intriguing possibilities.
Every year people beg me for the lilliputian, watermelon-striped, lightly citrus-flavored cucamelons we discovered a few years ago. Kiwano melon, with its orange skin covered in prickly spines, looks fascinating. Its interior, a gelatinous green blob you scoop out with a spoon, is just as intriguing, but we did not flip over its flavor. It was a one-time crop.
Painted Mountain corn is stunning in displays and adds color appeal when ground for cornbread. Photo by Carole Coates.
It’s fun to watch tomatillos change color from green to purple and fill out until they pop their husks. They are so prolific we end up donating the majority of our crop.
Tromboncino squash is such a versatile vegetable—it can be used fresh as summer squash or left on the vine long enough for its skin to harden for use as a winter squash. Each one is large enough to feed a small army. Photo by Carole Coates.
Egyptian walking onions keep on giving as they ‘walk’ their way across a garden bed to produce a new crop year after year. There is a comical alien quality about this crop that makes me want to sit and enjoy its otherworldly charms. Photo by Carole Coates.
Let Flowers Do the Work for You
Flowers make me smile even when I’m in the middle of some not-so-fun garden chores. They brighten up any outdoor space. Indoor, too, if you plant enough for cutting. And many of them have delightful scents. But there’s more to flowers in the garden than their visual and "scentual" charms.
Some, such as nasturtium, bee balm, pansy, and sunflower—and so many more, are edible. Click here for a list of common edible flowers.
Punch up some garden interest by growing vining flowers on a homemade or purchased arch. Walking through it each day on the way to garden chores will put a spring in any gardener's step. Photo by Carole Coates.
Flowers are important garden companions. They attract beneficial insects to pollinate your plants and bring in birds to gobble up garden pests. Some flowers are themselves hard-working pest-repellents. Lisa Mason Zieglar’s book, Vegetables Love Flowers, is an excellent guide for gardeners who want to increase their garden productivity while eliminating some of the drudgery, all by the simple act of adding flowers to the garden.
For those little ones we want to turn into enthusiastic gardeners, you can’t go wrong by growing a few quirky plants, whether they are edible or strictly ornamental. It’s also a good practice to bring out the kid in all of us.
What could be more fun for children than growing their own popcorn? Photo by Carole Coates.
Swan gourds need a long growing season but reward you with interesting shapes for crafting, decorating, or turning into birdhouses. Photo by Carole Coates
Love-lies-bleeding is actually an edible amaranth, but its dreadlock-like trailing flowers add a whimsical touch to the garden. And who could resist the name? Photo by Carole Coates.
Pumpkin-on-a-stick, actually an inedible member of the eggplant family, provides stalks of miniature orange pumpkin-shaped fruit suitable for drying and decorating. Photo by Carole Coates.
Treat the Garden Like a Room in Your Home
Every gardener deserves a comfortable place to simply sit and survey the garden in all its bountiful glory. If you have a shady spot in the garden, that’s even better for taking a break from backbreaking chores. Photo by Carole Coates.
How about a water feature? A small pond will attract frogs, those insatiable insect-devourers. A fountain provides soothing sounds to garden by as well as offering a watering hole for birds and beneficial insects.
While you’re at it, consider adding some color and whimsy in the way of garden art. Wind chimes will add pleasing sounds to garden by. Gazing balls, metal sculptures, fanciful garden signs, and wind spinners are a few other examples.
This garden-friendly insect watches over our vegetable garden day and night. Photo by Carole Coates.
Thrift stores offer interesting finds, or you could repurpose some items from your lawn which has seen better days. A coat of spray paint will dress them right up and brighten the garden. If you use concrete blocks for terracing or raised beds, you can add a splash of color by spray painting them. Crafty or artistic gardeners can come up with their own unique creations.
Gardener and wellness guru Shawna Coronado refreshes old garden tools with bright coats of paint to hang on a wooden fence or the side of a garden shed. She even edges garden paths with colorful wine bottles turned upside down and partially buried in the ground.
There’s no end to the ways you can elevate gardening to make it a pleasure for all the senses and a place where you will want to relax, refresh, and entertain as well as work. And with just a little effort, it will become an oasis where you can treat all the senses.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, and modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography. She is the author of Boyhood Daze and Other Stories: Growing Up Happy During the Great Depression and Blackberries and Biscuits: Life and Times of a Smoky Mountain Girl.
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