Beauty Queen



I’ve been noticing non-vegetable-gardeners’ vegetable gardens this summer–you know, the few edible things stuck in a sunny corner of the flower bed or in a tiny raised bed on the lawn.  There are always tomatoes, which makes perfect sense to me, since there are few things I’d rather eat than a tomato still radiating the warmth of the sun.  Then there is usually a stiff row of peppers and eggplants.  That makes less sense to me, much as I love roasted red peppers and eggplants.  Just not productive enough in my part of the world.

If I had only a small space for vegetables, my holy trinity would include basil and arugula as well as tomatoes.  Basil because pasta pesto is the great 10-minute meal of summer.  And arugula for about forty reasons:

  • best salad material on earth;
  • takes so little space–a 2 foot by 2 foot patch will keep you hard-pressed on the eating front;
  • grows fast, so it can be resown throughout the season as it gets woody and goes to seed;
  • can take a little bit of shade, too;
  • hardy over a long, long season. 

Without any kind of row cover, you can still expect at least 5 months of salads in my part of the world from nothing but a handful of arugula seeds scattered over the ground a few times a season.

I’d probably add something else to my pocket garden–patty pan squashes.  Absurdly productive on a handsome bush.  Incredibly delicious cut into thin slices, drizzled with oil and salt and stuck under the broiler.  Serve, ideally, with more oil and salt and lemon basil.  One of the finer things in life.

But there is one more thing I’d do if I had no vegetable garden and were just sticking in a few things in the middle of an urban yard: I would rip the sweet autumn clematis off my iron arch, much as I love it, and replace it with pole beans.  They are such beautiful vines–big twining leaves that will reach the top of anything you give them to climb by early August.  And some of the them, like Scarlet Runner Bean, have bright-colored flowers to boot.  I always plant Scarlet Runner Bean for its flowers, though admittedly, the beans are only really delicious when young.  If you let them get more than half an inch wide, they get hairy and tough.  This year, I also tried a new variety from Fedco Seeds called Blue Coco.  It has pretty purplish stems and pretty purplish flowers and absurdly gorgeous purple beans that hang down from the heights of my arch.  And it has the advantage of being super-delicious–the most delicious pole bean I think I’ve ever eaten.  Pole beans are also ridiculously productive–a dozen plants on two sides of an iron arch will have you picking bags of beans every few days.  And they don’t let up until a frost does them in.

If I didn’t have a vegetable garden in the country–it does often seem ridiculous, paying a second mortgage just so I can do three crops of potatoes a season–I’d make a pole bean allee in my city yard.


  1. M, I do admire the price you’ll pay (2 mortgages) to have room for your kitchen garden. And your trifecta of edibles is exactly what someone like me, a noncook, needs to know about. And next year, it might just happen here in my Takoma Garden.

  2. Excellent choices, I have many of the above but also have chives, oregano, sage, and thyme; which allow the cooking from the garden to start as early as possible. Last night I roasted eggplant, peppers, garlic, and red onions for a pizza topping. It all came from my garden at home or work. Have you had parsley pesto? just tried it this year.. puree a tomato with a cup of parsely, a clove of garlic, a couple TBSP’s of olive oil and some salt.

  3. Yum, I love arugula too! I didn’t know about it till I started volunteering in a local public garden where they have a demonstration veggie garden. They have a plan to expand to a combination ornamental/vegetable garden, which should be interesting to see. I also learned about lemon basil; great on sandwiches and salads!

  4. I’m all for non-vegetable gardeners adding a few vegetables here and there to get the thrill of the fresh vegetables, especially tomatoes. Join in the thrill of the first tomato!
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  5. I’m with Carol–let the veggies and herbs be tucked in anywhere there is room! My greatest delight this week so far was seeing these people who had a trellis system rigged up along the front of their front porch… just so they could grow tomatoes on their tiny city plot. (Their backyard appears to be all tree-shaded.) Right on!

    What really gets me going, though, is when edibles and ornamentals are combined together artfully. I aspire to that.

  6. Your photo is so inspiring! I’m just starting to pick the Scarlet Runner Beans. I hear they’re good to let turn into shell beans, so will give that a try this year for succotash. I just planted another 4×4 foot patch of arugula last week and it’s an inch tall already. I should have been more vigilant in my replanting, we’ve had a serious salad gap around here. My summerhead lettuce didn’t come up.

    I’ll be trying the pattypan preparation you describe. Sounds yum, and we’ve got them coming on strong now. I’ll also be adding those Coco beans to my list for next year. I love purple podded beans and am trying to be patient with my patch of Royal Burgundy bush beans that are sooo slow to make beans this year.

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