My backyard garden is small, maybe 300 square feet and some of that is concrete and some in deep shade. Although I am determined to grow as much of my own food as possible I still love the beauty and pleasure flowers give and would never consider doing without them. The garden is my refuge and where I spend summers with friends and loved ones or read with a glass of iced tea on a hot day. Or, as the weekend dictates share a beer instead.
To make all this possible I follow a scaled-down version of polyculture. At its most basic this involves interplanting edibles with ornamentals in such a way that they both benefit.
For instance flowers and herbs bring in more pollinators, the scent of dill repels cabbage moth and marigolds release a substance in the soil that kills parasitic nematodes. These are all great side benefits but what I really care about is how pretty the garden is and whether or not my vegetables will produce happily. I plan my garden all winter; changing my mind dozens of times over where things will go, and what they will go with. Small spaces can restrict creativity but also help to narrow down choices – something I find hard to do. It also becomes more difficult to rotate crops from where they were the previous year when space is limited. When one plants beans or tomatoes here and there instead of in one perfect row it is difficult to remember exactly where they were.
Then there are my edible or beneficial weeds – I don’t usually have to plant these because nature does it for me. Garlic mustard, Nettles, Lambs Quarter, etc… Although many of these are invasive I find the best way to combat that is to eat or use them. So although my garden looks like a muddle(and it is), there really is a method to the madness. As much as I admire other gardeners’ straight lines of crinkly lettuce and docile peas scrambling up their well-spaced out supports I could never maintain such a garden.
My garden is a bit of a jungle but it’s one that provides.