How to Be Even More Excited About Home Than Wherever You Vacationed (Garden Photo Essay)
Don’t get me wrong — I love vacations. Edisto Island in May was paradise and our family spent June bonding on a cross-country trip. One thing I learned on the way to California and back was that your home’s location is everything — but you can certainly add your own personal touches.
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If you get an itch for the ocean and you wish it could look as pristine as the Appalachian mountains, Edisto Island in South Carolina is the place to go. What you won’t find is a skyline of high-rise architecture, floods of shopping malls, and cigarette butts mixed into the sand. You can rent a simple beach house but I highly recommend the Live Oak Campground at the Edisto Beach State Park for shade in between your seaside afternoons. Or you can camp right behind the preserved sand dunes like the one above for an even shorter walk. You might even see a loggerhead turtle nest!
Until now I’ve never had a real understanding of how arid the majority of the west is. In the populated areas I rarely saw food gardens, though I did see lawns with alarming frequency. Beautiful landscapes, but it made me homesick.
Only in Texas! Well, probably not. But this is an oil pumpjack (nodding donkey) with wind turbines in the background. I think the turbines are much more attractive.
We saw almost a dozen National Parks, some state parks, and various landmarks on our trip. It was a special time for our family — educational, and fun. But oh, home sweet home! It’s so nice to come home to a burgeoning vegetable garden. My friends and I built this garden in March and I got home just in time for harvesting. We’re eating the produce almost as fast as it comes in but this is a nice sampler of what we’re getting.
Our garden is 42′ x 42′ (or so) and we are using intensive planting methods. When people ask, I’ve been saying we’re growing everything but corn and watermelons… it’s hard for me to think of many major or minor annual food crops that we don’t have in the ground.
Flowers to attract beneficial insects increase the functionality of the garden while also making it more beautiful. I think that intensively planted crops have a fullness and beauty similar to landscaped ornamental beds (whereas farm-style spacing looks more utilitarian) so the flowers are more like icing. Carpenter bees are great at pollinating open-faced flowers like squash and cucumbers but tend to cheat when they can’t fit their heads into a thin blossom. This bee is chewing holes in the base of ‘Lady in Red’ salvia blooms in order to get to the nectar.
We put crops we needed less of (such as amaranth greens) in patchwork patterns to save space. Lucky for us it is also prettier! Short species or cultivars of flowers such as the Cosmos ‘Carpet Mix’ and bedding Celosia in this photo bring in the good bugs without taking up too much room that could otherwise be used for food.
Our eggplants are as beautiful as hostas and they’ve successfully reached the size where flea beetles aren’t going to slow them down. We have a small patch of zinnias at one end of the bed to make sure the pollinators in our area find them now that they are uncovered.
Here’s the same eggplant bed from the front with the zinnias featured prominently. The eggplants are above 2′ tall at this point. I’ll probably put some low wire fencing around the bed to keep them from leaning into the rows and making it harder to harvest.
Nasturtiums are a ornamental and edible with a vibrant, peppery flavor. Both the flowers and variegated leaves are stunning additions to salads. They can also act as a sacrificial crop later in the season when it is time to put in fall cole crops like broccoli and cabbage. Brassica pests like cabbage butterflies lay their eggs on the nasturtiums, distracting them from your vegetables. You can dispose of the pest larva and eggs by ripping out the nasturtiums if they become too infected.
Even the flowers of your regular vegetables can be appealing to the eye. This squash flower is as big and bright as a sunflower. Okra, a hibiscus relative, is another crop which looks as good as it tastes.
What can bring greater home joy than backyard tomatoes? We certainly think so — this row wraps around the side of the garden and extends all the way to the swingset in the background. I admit to having a tomato problem. I think it gets worse every year!
We’ve had some smaller varieties starting to ripen but the big beefsteaks and heirlooms are still hanging there, tempting but green. Good thing I’ll be home to enjoy them when they finally turn bright and juicy!