An edible corner of the concrete jungle


A gardener dreams of what she’d plant if she had room for just a container garden. (Bill Oxford/istockphoto)
Contributor May 22, 2013

Gardeners without gardens have a rich fantasy life. They dream of rows of tomato plants and a kitchen table heaped with fragrant, just-picked melons. I, on the other hand, have plenty of space in my garden — and the work it entails.

Sometimes I fantasize about what I’d grow in a yard with nothing but concrete under my feet. I don’t actually want that garden, hooked as I am on the daily abundance of what I grow. But just like those tiny houses that are so popular, a tiny garden is an idea I sometimes try on for size, so to speak.

Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.” View Archive

My mini-plot would grow in planters, and they would surround a table where I’d eat alfresco, close enough to the potted tomato to reach over and pick a few for my salad. Just one cherry tomato plant would do, trained to one stem and tied to a sturdy pole stuck into the center of its pot. Plus a pot with a Big Beef tomato, if there’s room.

Nearby I’d have another container, maybe one of those whiskey half-barrels, in which pole beans climb a teepee made of thick bamboo poles. Picking regularly, I’d enjoy snap beans for most of the summer.

One pot might hold an eggplant or two, a variety such as Orient Express with lots of smallish, slender fruits. Or peppers — little hot red serranos. One summer squash plant would be sufficient, perhaps yellow Zephyr with its cute green tip.

I’d want plenty of leafy greens, especially if the yard were semi-shaded. I’d fill long planters with cut-and-come-again varieties that give repeated harvests — mixed lettuces sown two inches apart and cut at baby-leaf size, arugula, claytonia, spinach and little curly endives. I’d want a few larger greens for cooking, too, such as ruby chard with its glowing scarlet stems and a few fountain-shaped Tuscan kale plants with their gorgeous blue-green foliage. As I harvested the outer leaves, new ones would grow from the center.

Of course, there’d be herbs — annuals including basil and cilantro could share a box, but perennials such as sage and tarragon would need individual pots to keep them from fighting for space. (Herbs defy the tidy geometries we plan for them.)

Root crops? Little round carrots, baby Hakurei turnips, French Breakfast radishes and baby beets would all have their place in this imaginary garden. Scallions, too. There’d even be a fruit tree, a Meyer lemon that smelled as sweet as jasmine when it bloomed and got wheeled indoors on a plant dolly in fall. A potted fig would enter the scenario, and sometimes the table would be placed in a corner, with a potted grapevine arching over it on a triangular arbor. A lattice fence would also go up, to which I’d lash a row of beautiful dark-red heirloom corn.

Just like the tiny house I’ll never move into (where would I put my 1,000 cookbooks?), this garden will remain a dream, but should it ever appear, I know it would feed me well.

Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook”

Tip of the week

Sow bean seeds now for a July harvest. Bush beans are easy and productive, and additional sowings over the next six weeks will provide a summer-long supply. Pole beans need a trellis but will yield over a longer period. Scarlet runner beans should be sown in late July and August for a fall crop.

— Adrian Higgins

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