I love gardening, but living in a high traffic in-town area (even in Maine) has its challenges. Many of my plantings come from my mom’s garden in Massachusetts. Some work. Some don’t. Her plants don’t have to deal with kids, Siberian Huskies, mail trucks or cigarette butts from passersby. Recently, I had the opportunity to pose some of my questions about urban gardening to Kath and Christine over at Garden Eats. They give some great advice about planting, handling pollution, dealing with pests and making your garden look great. (My personal favorite tip is using shallow dishes of beer to keep pests away.) Enjoy!
Jennifer: I have two garden areas. My front area is next to a sidewalk. It’s not unusual to find cigarette butts or chipped paint from my old house (circa 1892) in the mulch. My back garden borders the local post office. On the other side of my fence is where the mail trucks park. It’s also an area where my dogs roam (and do their thing). Any suggestions for what to plant in these urban type locations? (Keeping in mind that I live in Maine.)
Christine: Ground covers are an excellent way to keep a high traffic area neat and tidy. Once planted, they are maintenance free! Periwinkle, known for it’s small blue flowers, will spread quickly and prefers shade, but will grow in partial sun. Pachysandra is an old-time favorite ground cover which will stay green all year. Self-sustaining, it looks well year round and spreads quickly. Because ground covers are so popular, garden centers have a designated area devoted to them.
Kath: If you’d like to use a “camouflage” planting to hide surroundings beyond your control, a great solution would be to plant the shrub Rose of Sharon. They can grow to 12 feet tall with a spread of 5-6 feet and will tolerate cold, hard winters. The shrub grows quickly and will produce large, gorgeous purple flowers in early July. Also, a great choice to filter pollutants from the mail trucks! Mid to late summer is a great time to buy shrubs as most of the garden centers have reduced their prices.
Jennifer: I have two kids and two Siberian Huskies. I don’t want to use chemicals in my yard, but I see that something is eating at the leaves of my flowers. I’ve also seen chipmunks and moles dig at my bulbs. What can I use to keep the pests away that is also chemical-free? Anything I can make on my own?
Christine: Yes! We always stay away from artificial pesticides at Garden Eats. While it creates a touch more work, the reward is in the chemical free harvest. Choosing to go sans chemicals in the garden also reduces the amount of pollution that would otherwise end up in our water and surrounding soil sources as well! Kath has the best tips!
Kath: While the wildlife kingdom living in many of our yards can be a challenge to keep out, we plant border marigolds around our gardens at the beginning of each season. Chipmunks, moles, bunnies and deer find the flowering tops bitter and tend to stay away after their second taste. Another gardener favorite-shallow dishes of beer placed in the corners of your garden to keep the snails and slugs from making home along the undersides of your leafy plants.
Another consideration is planting into a raised bed garden. The moles tend to find it more difficult to dig at bulbs when the gardens are not planted flush with the surrounding ground area.
I’ve been in the garden with my magnifying glass the past few days carefully removing aphids from the leaves of our pepper and broccoli leaves. Sometimes the tiniest creatures have a clever way of blending into the garden… But, not for long. While you can spray the leaves with a solution of biodegradable dish soap, we simply spend the time hand-removing these un-invited pests.
Jennifer: I love the idea of art in a garden, whether it’s sculpture or a funky bird bath, particularly if it’s hand made. My problem is that I live in a high foot traffic area. It’s not uncommon for things I put out in the front of my house to “walk away.” Any thoughts or idea on what I can add to my front garden that would be difficult to take away?
Kath: Why not consider an unusual planting as art in the garden? A single hydrangea or rose tree can take center stage. Both choices produce large gorgeous flowers all season long and can be pruned to grow to your desired height.
Christine: I love abstract art and try to incorporate “found” objects or unusually shaped pieces to act as trellises or more permanent fixtures. Planting sculptures or trellises so plants are encouraged to grow up and along them is one of the best ways to deter attracting eyes. Kind of a challenge to nab the garden gnome when it has tomatoes or flowers growing along it! While I love to construct and craft my own pieces, Terra Trellis has some cool urban friendly designs you can “plant” into the ground. We did this with our bean and cucumber trellis this year!
Jennifer: Where do you find inspiration for your gardens?
Kath: I come from a family of gardeners. My grandfather worked at our local public market and passed his talents down to my mother. My mom can take a blank space and within two years have a picture perfect garden of colorful annuals and perennials. Having a background in art inspires me to think creatively in the garden. You might be surprised to see metallic spray-painted bowling balls or hand painted birdhouses scattered throughout my gardens. Just a bit of whimsy!!
Jennifer: Tell me more about you and your website and how you help people with their own urban gardens.
Urban gardening can be tricky, but mostly fun and creative. Once we’ve determined what environmental pollutants might be lurking in a person’s locale, we decide on the types of gardens that are possible to forge. We joke on our website that “we’ve even been known to grow a garden in a dresser drawer” and it’s true- gardens can be grown virtually anywhere in a huge variety of vessels and containers!
The inspiration for Garden Eats really came out of the idea that socially conscious interdependent communities thrive when they can enjoy the fruits of their labor, literally. Kitchen gardening and living local is part our blood-line, but can easily be learned, enjoyed and come to benefit an entire community. “Taking the science out of eating to put the taste in your food” has been our motto all along. Teaching folks to grow and eat with the seasons or buy locally is always at the heart of what we offer.
As we continue to grow, we hope the website will encourage people to interact, tell stories and be reminded that a less stressful lifestyle can lead to real abundance!