Q: I would like to grow my own vegetables and maybe some fruit, but my yard is very small. Is there a way I can incorporate vegetables into my current garden space?

A: Absolutely! Decorative vegetable gardening was inspired by the French, and today we are seeing a return to this practice due to the increasing demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. In 2016, the National Gardening Association published data findings that indicated 35 percent of American households were growing food at home or in community gardens. Incorporating edibles into the landscape without plowing the backyard is possible and there are multiple ways of going about it.

Raised beds and container gardening have become a popular choice for smaller yards and are certainly worth considering. If you want to grow your vegetables amongst your flowers however, the first thing to consider is the current design of your garden. Is the space formal or informal?

A more formal garden makes use of hedges to create a framework. Blueberry bushes make lovely hedges that have the added benefit of fall color in the garden. Rosemary can be used to create a fragrant low to medium hedge. If the space is more informal, use pathways/paving to maintain order.

Make a list of the edibles you want to grow and note the size, shape, color, texture and site preference of each. A basic list could be comprised of low edging plants such as dwarf red basils, curly parsley, lettuce varieties and pansies.

Medium height plantings to consider include basil, bush beans and red cabbage. Pair these with dwarf dahlias or lavender.

Taller plants like broccoli, chard and peppers would be better suited to the back of the bed and look beautiful with sedums, rosemary, or gladiolas. Plants that require no support, such as asparagus, bay laurel, rosemary, and smaller fruit bushes, would pair well with roses, fennel, salvia, daylilies or cannas.

Consider the texture of the plants and the architectural interest created by texture in the garden. Asparagus, fennel and carrots for example, have a feathery effect while kale and parsley are curly. Vary your texture, height and color and use repetition to create rhythm in the garden.

Don’t forget to group vegetables and ornamentals that have similar water, nutrient, and sunlight requirements! A shade loving fern will not do well with a sun-loving tomato.

If you are planting trees in your yard why not opt for fruit trees such as pear, plum, pomegranate, persimmon, fig, or the Gulf Coast favorite satsuma? You will be adding shade and providing fruit.

Do you have an arbor or pergola? Consider growing muscadine grapes rather than a perennial climber. I once saw a garden that used a combination of red cherry tomatoes paired with blue morning glories on an arbor! Your yard is your canvas so have fun with the variety of colors and textures fruits and vegetables can add to the picture you paint. Your local extension office can provide information on varieties that do well here as well as a good planting calendar for this zone.

Be aware that some vegetables/herbs don’t do well planted together and others have relationships that are mutually beneficial. Basil for example is thought to improve the flavor of tomatoes. Rosemary is a companion to cabbage, beans, carrots and sage. It can help deter cabbage worm and bean beetles.

Read more on companion planting and why you should avoid pairing asparagus or beans with garlic or onions. Some other great resources to consider are Organic Gardening magazine or Mother Earth Livin; and don’t discount seed catalogues as a learning resource available for free. You can learn a lot about new varieties, heirlooms and plant sizes from a seed catalogue.

Vegetable gardening that incorporates flowers raises the simple production of food to an exciting new level and the result can be a feast for the eye as well as the palate.

UPCOMING: (Free and open to the public)
What: Monthly Master Gardener meeting
When: Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 10-11:30 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N.

Topic: “Mobile Urban Growers and Community Gardens” with speaker Pat Hall
What: Lunch and Learn
When: Monday, Nov 21, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N.
Topic: “Long Leaf Pine, a Southern History” with speaker Fred Nation

MASTER GARDENER HELPLINE: Call 1-877-252-4769, or send us your gardening questions to coastalalabamagardening@gmail.com.

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