I have never been a fan of horticultural segregation. Meaning, I like all the plants together all the time. Mixing edibles and ornamentals of all sizes, shapes and textures is my jam. Shape pruning or boxing is not my style either, which ends up being what I call “fluffy foodscaping.” While order and monoculture still dominate much ornamental horticulture and landscape design — and are clearly cemented as the standard in the minds of many homeowners — I get the sense many of our customers would like to be set free. Free to mix and grow whatever they would like in whatever combinations they would like, wherever they would like. Many of them are just waiting for us to give them permission by example. With the plantdemic push still in full force, now is a great time to remind home gardeners that “fluffy foodscaping” is not only acceptable but desirable.
Those of us in the industry often assume everyone knows edibles and ornamentals can be grown side by side. That is not so. I will never forget my neighbors confronting me on the sidewalk in front of my house. They were in total amazement that there were lettuces growing in my front landscape bed. They said they had no idea you could mix edibles into “regular” landscaping. They were experienced gardeners. Be sure to show your gardening newcomers, and regulars, that mixing herbs, vegetables and fruits together with pretty ornamentals is not only perfectly acceptable but gives them the best of both gardening worlds.
Contain your excitement
With so many apartment dwellers and small-space gardeners getting into the game over the past year, people are looking for just about any available space in which they can tuck edibles. Growing edibles in containers is a great solution for many who want to experience a bit of homegrown harvest, but do not have a yard or space for raised beds.
Mixed foodscape containers are not just for small space gardeners. Even those with good-sized backyards may not have enough sunny space to get a great harvest. Mixed containers can be grown just about anywhere the sun goes, be it your patio, balcony, front yard or even your driveway. No space needs to be wasted!
Grab n’ grow bag
Some of our customers also want some flexibility and ease of mobility when it comes to planted containers. Not everyone can or wants to lug heavy pottery home, or around their landscape, or up to a balcony, especially if they want to get set up quickly. Fabric grow bags are a great solution for small space or patio gardeners — or pop-up veggie gardeners in any space — who want lightweight options that are easy to store when not in use.
Grow bags fold flat for easy storage and are 100% frost-proof, so there is no lugging heavy pots indoors for the winter. They can be used for many seasons and their mobility means you can easily move these pots around to maximize sunlight. Fabric grow bags offer gardeners a great way to grow that is cost-effective, simple and beneficial to plants. Anyone can head home from the garden center with a few folded grow bags, a couple of bags of potting mix and two or three trays of plants, and be set up with a container veggie garden in about an hour.
You could even put together a fun bundle of edible gardening products in a grow bag with a set quantity of plants as a package grab n’ grow bag project purchase SKU. (This would be a great bundled product for your online store). If you are looking for a good educational tool to go with your grab n’ grow bags, be sure to check out my friend Kevin Espiritu’s new book, “Grow Bag Gardening: The Revolutionary Way to Grow Bountiful Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Flowers in Lightweight, Eco-friendly Fabric Pots.”
Small is big
When it comes to edible varieties that thrive in containers, size was often the limiting factor. Big indeterminate tomatoes, huge rambling squash and beans and giant okra plants were not always well suited for smaller containers.
Forget about adding fruits like blueberries or watermelon. Turn over the calendar page to 2021 and you will suddenly discover a widening array of dwarf vegetable and fruit cultivars perfect for mixed container cultivation.
There are many new mini-veggies and fruits to discover but be sure to check out the PanAmerican Seed collection, Kitchen Minis, which are ready to place inside on a sunny counter or windowsill, or outside on a patio table. They are ideally sold with some ripe fruit — ‘ready-to-harvest.’
The collection includes teeny tomatoes ‘Tiny Tom,’ ‘Siam,’ ‘Cocoa’ and ‘Red Velvet,’ along with many compact pepper cultivars.
‘Tatakoto’ is a new Treasure Island series sweet potato cultivar that offers both beautiful cascading container foliage but also lovely, purple-skinned edible tubers with orange flesh.
Do not forget the berries! Strawberries ‘Berried Treasure’ White and ‘Berried Treasure’ Pink are new for 2021, as are the new compact blueberry Midnight Cascade and BABY CAKES thornless blackberry, to name just a few.
Foliage and flowers
Always provide suggested ornamentals to mix with container edibles. Matching sun and water needs is key to successful maintenance. Pair warm seasons edibles such as peppers with flowers such as coleus, celosia, verbena and vinca. Pair cool-season edibles such as leafy green with calendula, alyssum, petunias and violas. Of course, perennials for foliage and flower interest can be added for year-round structure and interest.
Growing small yet diverse is the new big movement in gardening. Do not miss out on this opportunity to mix things up — make edible gardening both manageable and beautiful for your customers, no matter their space.