If there’s one complaint that I hear about vegetable gardens it’s simply that they’re “ugly”. People often want to hide them away out of sight, and overlooking someone else’s vegetable plot can be a cause for neighbourly tensions. But things don’t have to be like that.
With a little thought and effort your pride and joy can look neat, tidy and attractive at all time, no matter how much time you have to spare. As someone who is constantly receiving positive comments about my plot – which is right next to a road – here are some of my top tips for keeping things looking good…
Plant in Neat Rows
There’s something beautiful about a nice, neat row of tomato plants or swiss chard that pleases the eye. Fortunately, planting straight rows is simplicity itself…
Simply grab two sturdy bits of dowel (or twigs will do) then tie some string between them. Stick one of the dowels into the earth, then stretch out the string and anchor the other end.
Stand back to make sure the line you’ve just “drawn” on the ground is parallel to your others and then plant your seedlings along the string. When you’re done, pull out the dowels and move on.
As a bonus tip, if you want to keep things really neat when you’re planting multiple rows of the same crop (as I do with potatoes, for example) then make a mark on a longer piece of wood and use this to “space” the rows as you’re planting. In this way they’ll all be equally spaced and will that little bit smarter as your vegetables mature.
Keep Edges Sharp
If your vegetable borders are surrounded by grass then all too soon the edges can become blurred. Grass starts to grow into the bed, and before you know if you have a wavy, wiggly edge to your border.
Using the “sticks and string” method described above, it is quite easy to mark out perfect straight lines for the edge of your beds. Then, simply work your way along with a lawn edger and neatly cut the edges of your borders so they’re sharp, straight and uniform. Speaking from experience this might not be the most fun job, but it only needs doing once every year or so – and the finished effect is well worth the effort.
Interplant with Colorful Annuals
Just because you’re growing vegetables doesn’t mean you have to give up on flowers entirely. Personally, I like to plant a range of colorful annuals such as Californian Poppies and Tagetes as a small “hedge” around each vegetable bed. This not only looks good, but it also helps to draw in beneficial insects that will pollinate your plants and fight off pests.
Make Use of Climbers
Whilst many climbers take years to reach a decent proportion, there are a number of annual climbers that will spring up in a number of months. These plants can be a fantastic way to quickly and easily cover anything that people might find unsightly, from water butts to compost heaps, whilst requiring only the most basic of care.
Weed Little and Often
A few years ago a new neighbour mentioned how he’d never seen a weed in my garden, and wished he could say the same. He wanted to know what the trick was to a weed-free garden. Sadly, I had to admit that it was nothing but manual labor. The thing is, I start off the growing season by digging my beds over entirely at least twice, with each session a few weeks apart. This ensures that I start off the growing season without a weed in sight.
From then on, my policy is “little and often”. Just a few minutes each day zipping along with my hoe is normally enough to keep things as they should be. The fact that it takes so little time when you weed regularly explains why my neighbour thought that weeds simply didn’t grow in my vegetable plot; as an early bird I’m often up and out in the garden long before anyone “normal” is even awake. Hence, he never saw me weeding, but also never saw a weed!
Use Natural Materials Where Possible
Artificial materials have a nasty habit of looking unsightly if you’re not careful, with a particular emphasis on plastic. From plant labels to supports, wherever possible try to make use of natural materials, from tree prunings to green garden string and try to avoid the plastic at all costs. You’ll find that a lack of plastic creates a far more “cohesive” impression of your plot, and naturally makes it look neater and tidier without even trying.
Prune Back Damaged Foliage
I wish I could tell you that every one of my plants grows to perfection each year, but of course I’d be lying. Leaves drop off, stems go yellow and I don’t mind admitting that the odd thing dies too. But don’t just leave them to rot where everyone can see them.
Instead, prune dead foliage back and dig up deceased vegetables to keep things neat and tidy. Even better, if you’re like me, try to keep a few “backup” seedlings whenever you plant out a new crop, so it’s easy to fill in any gaps that appear in the early weeks.
As you can see, there are all manner of quick and simple ways to keep your vegetable plot looking fantastic right throughout the season. And based on my experience, when you take just that little bit of effort, not only do your family and neighbours notice, but it suddenly becomes far more pleasant to be outside tending the vegetables.
Photos c/o photofarmer, smith & crabchick