It’s the time of year for planning and dreaming, rather than working in the garden. As I sketch and mentally “plant,” trying to visualize how the beds will look next season, the need for some vertical interest is apparent. As it is now, the potager is a series of flat squares and rectangles, more like a carpet planting than I’d like. And, amazingly, even on paper, I’ve already run out of space! One solution: growing up.
Vertical growing is not a new idea, (think Hanging Gardens of Babylon) but it is one that has been on an upward trend for the past few years as city and suburban lots grow smaller and homeowners want more area for entertaining or larger garages or whatever. I knew from the beginning that my potager would have some kind of arches or trellising for vertical growing. Not only will they provide height visually and be space-saving, but if placed properly they will also provide some much-needed shade for growing mid-season lettuces and other crops during our hot, hot Indiana summers.
My first list for plants to grow on a trellis contained many of the most common climbers: pole beans, scarlet runner beans, hyacinth beans, gourds, and morning glories. I’ve mulled over that list for several days now, and have made several revisions. First to go were the morning glories. Although I love their color and reliability, they are notorious self-seeders. Next were gourds. There are some edible gourds, but my family doesn’t eat them and while I love their “fairy flowers,” I think I’d like something more palatable.
Scarlet runner beans are edible and beautiful, and I found this lovely pale peach-flowered variety called “Sunset.” I hope they are as pretty as the seed packet. Runner Beans are also good for pollinators and easy to grow. I’m still debating about hyacinth beans. They are also edible, in fact Thomas Jefferson brought them over to Monticello in hopes that they would be a major food crop. Their burgundy leaves and purple flowers are lovely and both the flowers and purple-podded beans are nutritious, if not exactly delectable. Maybe I just need to find better recipes to use them. Any suggestions? The burgundy foliage will also echo many of the low-growing beets, red cabbages, and red mustards to help unify the design. And their gorgeous color will repeat the beautiful “Amethyst” basil that must be a part of my new garden, as it was one of my favorites in the old. So, probably the hyacinth beans will stay.
Regular pole beans stay on the list. There are two that I want to try. One is the heirloom French pole bean “Fortex” that both Pinetree Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds applaud for being dependable with an extended harvest season, producing extra slender, dark green 7″ “fillet” beans when young, but even tasty and stringless when allowed to reach 11″. That’s a long bean! Harvest begins only 60 days after seeding. Since a potager is a French-inspired vegetable/herb/flower garden, it seems not only appropriate but necessary to include a few French varieties throughout the garden.
The second pole bean is “Speckled Calico Pole Lima.” Normal lima beans are big space grabbers for the small harvest obtained, and we don’t eat them often, but my kids love limas when they visit. I hope they like this buttery-flavored red and white variety as well. It is said they have excellent flavor when frozen, which is good since we prefer limas frozen to canned.
I’m still working on my “Grow Up List,” which must include things we will actually eat and enjoy, as well as being reasonably attractive. I’m leaning toward cukes and single-serving melons, and possibly some small pumpkins, or maybe winter squash. There’s no rush in deciding since there’s a long winter ahead and still more seed catalogs to come, and this mental debate is all part of the fun of gardening. I’m open to suggestions. What are your favorite crops for growing up?