Patio Gardens

Published 5:29 am Sunday, July 6, 2008

Interest in patio vegetable gardens and edible landscapes is going through the roof. We have known this explosion was going on in Europe and wondered if it would hit here, too.

At the annual industry trials in early spring, a company called Floranova showed us the future, and it looks mighty tasty. They had created at their trial site a deck and patio with bountiful hanging baskets of tomatoes like Tumbling Tom, and a yellow version of this. They had containers with small but sturdy Totem tomato plants that were loaded with fruit.

The Buckingham yellow zucchini squash, the Balmoral acorn squash and Windsor pumpkins surprised most of us. The containers were loaded and ready to harvest.

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Other containers, not large ones either, were filled with peppers — sweet ones like Mohawk and Redskin and hot ones like Cheyenne.

At another location on our tour, we saw incredible bowls of leaf lettuce growing on decks. These were simple ideas that were almost unheard of five years ago. The artfully planted large bowls had red and green varieties of Galactic leaf lettuce. Leaf lettuce is easy to grow and can be sown in multiple crops. Later, you can harvest however much you want whenever you want it.

I saw those trial sites in late March and early April. Next, we started reading about food shortages and the high cost of produce because of shipping costs related to gasoline. More recently, we endured a salmonella scare. As a result, sales in vegetable seeds and transplants have taken off for containers, edible landscapes and small square-foot or intensive-type gardens.

There is probably not a better way in the world to get children interested in gardening than to let them plant vegetables in a container that they can watch and then harvest. My son still talks about the time we planted Irish potatoes in a large basket.

By mid-June, just the thought of gardening makes us break out in a sweat. Luckily, you can still plant edible plants in containers. Look for transplants at local garden centers as well as seeds for some quick sow-grow-and-harvest products like cilantro, that key ingredient for salsa and fajitas, or basil for Italian pesto sauce.

Believe it or not, fall garden planting season is about six weeks away for several crops and a little longer for some others. One thing that is nice about containers is that you can place them in the exact amount of sunlight the plant needs. The containers don’t need to be large or extravagant to harvest a bounty of produce. My main rule is to select a good, light potting mix that drains well. Of course, it is a no-brainer to make sure the container has drainage holes.

Lastly, at our own Mississippi State University trials, an eggplant called Slim Jim was a big hit with its dark purple leaves and long, light purple to lavender fruit. It can be grown in the field, in an edible landscape or as the thriller plant in a mixed container. Use it with yellow or orange flowers, and you’ll have an award-winning combination — plus, you will be eating eggplant parmesan before you know it.