Growing Your Own Vegetables
Some vegetables mix well with landscape plants
David Robson
Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension.

Most people think of vegetables as those things you eat that come from nice neat rows planted behind the garage or in the back 40. Tomatoes in cages. Cucumbers and squash vining across the ground.

Vegetable gardens are becoming a relic of the past, partially due to better tasting store produce, farmer’s markets, lack of interest and lack of time. Some folks just don’t like the look of a vegetable garden in their landscape, thinking that five months of green plants that look good only about two months isn’t the best use of space.

But nobody said you couldn’t put vegetables in your flower garden, or elsewhere in your landscape. It takes some re-thought on your part, but the rewards might just be worth it. There’s something wonderful about fresh lettuce, tomatoes and peppers.

First, remember that just about all vegetables prefer to grow in the full sun. You might be able to get some wiry, floppy tomato plants in the shade, and you’ll surely be able to count the tomatoes you get on one hand. But you should need all your fingers, toes and your families if you grew the plants in the sun.

Cucumbers and lettuce might do better in the shade, but we’re talking about partial shade, where the plants will still get at least five to six hours of direct sunlight each day.

Some plants don’t lend themselves as easily as others. Pumpkins and watermelons seem to ramble all over the place, though there are some bush forms that are a little more compact and will still produce some fruit.

Sweet corn needs lots of rows for good pollination. It looks rather uninteresting in the landscape as well.

Pole beans might seem weird, with a teepee of sticks poking up, but if you plan accordingly, you can create a little room for children or grand­children to play in. Plant some sunflowers near by, and the kids can dream and role-play for hours.

Leafy vegetables like lettuce, Swiss chard and spinach provide an interesting variation on foliage, especially if you choose lettuce and Swiss chard with colorful leaves. There’s no need to plant the seeds in neat rows – you can scatter them amongst your flowers and just harvest the entire plant as it comes up. Swiss chard doesn’t bolt, or go to seed as fast, as the others do, so you can enjoy it throughout the summer. ‘Bright Lights’ is a cultivar with the most colorful stems.

Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can be inter­planted between peonies, daylilies and other perennials. This might even fool the cabbage loopers and worms that seem to devour the foliage. However, once you harvest the plant, remove it, or place something else in the same location.

Of all the vegetables for the flower garden, peppers and tomatoes do the best, with the former providing some interesting foliage, flowers and fruit throughout the season.

Choose colorful peppers instead of the traditional green bell types, even though they will turn red as they age. It’s so much better to start off from scratch with the reds, yellows, orange and purple colored ones, or go with the interesting shapes such as banana, chili, round, globe or pimento shapes.

Make sure you give the vegetables enough room to grow. For most transplants, allow two to three feet square. If tomatoes are to be caged, put the cage on when you plant, so the plant grows and hides it.

Vegetables naturally need more fertilizer and water. So don’t skimp throughout the summer. This fact also requires you to think somewhat where you plant them. You don’t want to put water-­loving vegetables near plants that prefer hot, dry conditions like sedums.


For more information:

check out the University of Illinois Web site at: www.ipm.uiuc.eduYou can contact David Robson via E-mail:

Or write to him in care of:

Illinois Country Living
P.O. Box 3787,
Springfield, IL 62708.

Telephone: (217) 782-6515