Jeff McGee caught the gardening bug from his father and grandparents, but his mother gave him his sense of style. “She was always about making things pretty, neat, and orderly,” he recalls. So it only stands to reason that aesthetics would be as important to the success of his kitchen garden as the veggies he hauls out of it.
A visit to Williamsburg, Virginia, inspired the design―a fenced garden featuring geometrically shaped beds edged in brick and connected by crushed limestone gravel paths. At its center rests a diamond-shaped bed that holds a traditional knot garden. Jeff used clipped dwarf yaupon, yellow Joseph’s coat, and ‘Crimson Pygmy’ Japanese barberry to make the knot. Pots of ‘Dragon Wing’ begonias anchor the corners.
The vegetable beds surrounding the knot garden got off to a good start. Jeff began with the basics, amending the soil by tilling in compost, peat moss, and lots of leaves. To counter nematodes―microscopic worms that attack plant roots―he began rotating crops from bed to bed so that these and other pests wouldn’t multiply.
He also solarized the soil prior to planting by tilling it, watering it, and then covering it with clear plastic from mid-April to midsummer. This practice produces soil temperatures hot enough to kill soil insects, nematodes, fungi, and weed seeds. “It really does work,” he asserts.
Regular watering is essential to any kitchen garden. Jeff figured out how to do this aesthetically too. A sprinkler head rises from a concrete pot in the center of the barberry to water everything. Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and bush beans say thank you with baskets of produce. As this example shows, vegetable gardens don’t have to be ugly. Jeff was wise. He listened to his mother.