Resolve to Grow More Veggies in 2014 by Patty Leander

In a nod to the ubiquitous cell phone and the trend of sharing one’s life in pictures, The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013 was ‘selfie’. But there’s another word that has crept into our vocabulary that may have more relevance to gardeners: Blandscaping. What image does that one word bring to mind? A cookie cutter landscape? A rectangle of grass? Uniformly trimmed hedges lined up in a single row? I bet it doesn’t make you think of a vegetable garden! A vegetable garden is vibrant, dynamic and engaging. It is full of sights, sounds and creatures and best of all an edible harvest.



This resourceful garden was built using materials available on site – native rock and unused concrete blocks with discarded fencing laid down in the paths to deter weeds. Photo by Bruce Leander.

If your landscaping has become a little too bland try incorporating a few edibles or a small vegetable garden this year.  Be sure to include crops that grow well in your region and start with vegetables your family likes to eat. Mid-January through February is the perfect time for planting broccoli, sugar snap peas, radishes, turnips, beets, Swiss chard, lettuce and spinach here in Central Texas. Check with the local AgriLife Extension office or Master Gardener organization in your county for the best planting dates in your area. 

 Get some exercise while tending your edible landscape, savor the nutritious results and you have the start to a healthy new year!  If you are new to the diverse vegetable kingdom or if the thought of eating turnips, Swiss chard or radishes leaves you feeling underwhelmed, check back here for some tasty ideas for bringing these health-promoting veggies to the table. I’ll be posting some occasional suggestions for preparing the bounty from your garden – you may be surprised how delicious it can be!   



This vegetable “bed” causes visitors to pause and admire the gardener’s sense of humor. Photo by Bruce Leander

There are numerous ways to include vegetables in a landscape, as you’ll see from the accompanying photographs, but there are also universal pitfalls to avoid in the process. It’s easy to get caught up in the garden frenzy of a new season but do try to start with a manageable plan. Believe me when I tell you that vegetables will respond much better when you don’t torture them with the following approach:


Vegetables are living things; they may not need as much time as a pet but they do require regular attention. A garden that is too big means plants will not receive the care that is required to bring them to fruition. 



Vegetable gardens can be as varied as the gardeners that tend them. Some gardeners prefer the contemplative solitude of a morning tending tidy rows of plants. Photo by Bruce Leander


Vegetables growing in the Texas heat may appreciate a little dappled shade at the height of summer but vegetables growing in the cool season need lots of sunlight to counter the cloudy and chilly days in early spring. Farms don’t grow in the shade.



A double row of broccoli grows in a narrow bed bordered by 16x8x8 inch cinder blocks. Lettuce fills the small space within the concrete blocks. Photo by Bruce Leander.


Consult a planting calendar for your area or ask an experienced gardener about planting dates. When planting in the cool season months use a soil thermometer to monitor temperature before planting. Different vegetables thrive at different temperatures and most cool season plants will do best when the soil temperature is in the 40-50° degree range.


Give your plants plenty of growing room so they don’t have to compete for nutrients and water. Follow spacing recommendations for transplants and if sowing from seed be sure to thin to the proper spacing after seed has germinated. 



Some gardens exude energy, enthusiasm and learning, like the vibrant Children’s Garden at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. Photo by Bruce Leander


Create a checklist or purchase a gardening to-do guide and stick to it. Allow time for weeding, watering, fertilizing, inspecting and grooming plants. Remove diseased leaves and keep an eye out for harmful insects and hand-pick or spray to keep populations in check.

Remember, for most gardeners growing vegetables is an enjoyable and productive hobby…but when all else fails visit your local farmers market for a healthy dose of locally grown produce.  Here’s to a happy and successful gardening year!



Vegetable gardens naturally attract children and other living creatures!. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Edible Landscape Tour

Currently, one of the hottest trends in landscape design is called “Edible Landscapes”.  Edible landscapes seek to incorporate vegetable, herbs, berries and fruit trees into urban and suburban landscapes. 

The backyard of one of the homes on the tour. Photo by Bruce Leander

I can attest that it is pretty easy to create an attractive outdoor space using a mix of fruiting plants and ornamentals.  Each season my little potager contains lots of vegetables mixed in with daylilies, salvias, justicias and dianthus.  The structure and color that these ornamentals add make the less showy vegetables much more attractive to look at.

I strive to make my spring and fall potager as attractive as possible.  While the aesthetics are important, there are a couple of side benefits to this combination of plants that make the garden much more efficient and productive.

Pansy, viola, carrots and shallots in my 2011 fall garden

First, since this is a vegetable garden, I mulch everything fairly well.  This mulch moderates soil temperatures and reduces water lost to evaporation.  Because of this, I am able to keep a fairly large amount of plants alive on MUCH less water than would be required to keep up a lush lawn of the same size.

Increased pollination is another side benefit of mixing vegetables and ornamentals.  Since I have a wide range of flowers that bloom throughout the year, my potager is always full of bees and other pollinators.  In addition to giving me something else to watch while I am in the garden, these pollinators make sure that I get lots tomatoes, squash and cucumbers every season.

Another yard on the edible landscape tour. Photo by Bruce Leander

If you would like to learn more about edible landscapes, you can join my wife and I at the Travis County “Edible Gardens Tour” In Austin.  My friend (and fellow MOH blogger and Texas Gardener writer) Patty Leander will be giving a presentation on the healthy aspects of vegetable gardening at the Agrilife Extension Center.  If you don’t want to start your tour at the Extension office, feel free to start at any of seven houses that are on the tour.  You can get your tickets, schedule and map to the houses online.  The tour kicks off at 9:00 and there will be short presentations at each one.  This is a great opportunity to see and learn from some very good gardeners that are doing great things by combining edibles and ornamentals in their yards and gardens.  As an added bonus, some of houses on the tour also use water wise gardening practices.  With the constant threat of water restricitions, this will be a great opportunity to pick up some of the tips and tricks you need to continue growing food when the rains don’t come.

The tour costs $15 per person in advance and you can reserve your tickets on the event website (Click Here).  The tour will start at the Travis County Agrilife Extension Center located at 1600-B Smith Road in Austin.  Hope to see you there!

P.S.  If you can’t make the tour in person be sure to watch KLRU’s “Central Texas Gardener”.   Their October 13 show will feature many of the gardens and the gardeners that are featured on the tour.  Their schedule is below.

Channel Day Date Time
KLRU    SaturdaySunday


Oct. 13Oct. 14

Oct. 15

Noon & 49 a.m.

5:30 a.m.

KLRU Q (18/3) TuesdayWednesday


Oct. 16Oct. 17

Oct. 19

6:30 p.m.7:00 a.m.

9:30 a.m.

KLRN (San Antonio) Saturday Oct. 13 11 a.m.
KNCT (Killeen & Waco) Saturday  Oct. 13  1:30 p.m.
KBDI (Denver, CO) SundayTuesday Oct. 14Oct. 16 2 p.m.2:30 p.m.
KPBT Midland (Permian Basin) Monday Oct. 15  12:30 p.m.
KAMU (College Station) Saturday Oct. 13 5:00 p.m.
KRSC (Claremore, OK) SaturdayTuesday Oct. 13Oct. 16


10:30 a.m.1:30 p.m.
KTWU (Topeka, KS) multiple days & times    

also on UNCMX Raleigh-Durham and K32EO Colorado Springs