Looking for a quick, tasty way to go green this spring? Start outside your window.
March in the Lowcountry can be a magical month, as the life cycle begins again and our coastal landscape awakens. I love to watch this time of year as our marshes begin their gradual shift to green, our trees take on fresh chartreuse tones and our lawns begin to re-emerge after a long winter.
But green is more than just a color, of course — it means a gradual evolution in the way we live and do business. And one of the newest trends in our area’s evolving green industry is the “edible landscape.” That’s a fancy term for growing your own food, a practice that reconnects us Mother Earth, delights our children and is rich in health benefits.
The backyard vegetable garden can be a culinary delight and a gardeners’ oasis, but it can also be a time-intensive endeavor that without proper care can quickly fall victim to weeds and/or insects. Still, if those worries are holding you back from growing your own food, I invite you to give edible containers a try. You might be surprised at the multitudes of fruits and vegetables that will thrive in a pot.
If you’re starting an edible container, begin with the basics. Choose a large container that will allow for ample root growth and keep watering needs to a minimum. Use organic soil mixes, compost and fertilizers Find a sunny spot, away from rabbits and, of course, deer.
And start small: Herbs are the classic choice for containers, and I always keep a few favorites on my deck for cooking. Rosemary is probably one of the easiest and most reliable for our area, but chives, thyme, and oregano also do well here all year long. Parsley, cilantro, and sage can be wonderful additions to the winter container; they thrive in cooler temperatures, but will decline during the heat of our summers. Once it does heat up, try basil (my choice summer herb) and pick from a variety of cultivars, including Italian, Greek, Thai and Lemon. (Not everything works though: mint can be invasive in the ground and for that reason I prefer to keep mine in a pot.)
If you’re looking to get a bit more ambitious and explore the world of vegetables, you can’t do better than peppers — they make great plants and they love our heat. All types will work, from sweet Bells to hot Chiles, but it’s best to wait until May to plant them, since they do not care for cool temperatures.
I also have good luck with my beloved tomatoes — cherry and grape varieties are easy and prolific — and the many dwarf forms on vegetables on the market these days, including beans, cucumbers, squash, and eggplant. During cooler weather try some colorful additions such as gourmet lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, and beets.
I’m talking a lot about vegetables here, but don’t count out fruits, which can also make wonderful container-grown plants. Topiary citrus trees can be stunning while producing a multitude of delectables, but for something different, try a dwarf banana, avocado, persimmon or natal plum. Strawberries have gorgeous cascading foliage, which makes them a fabulous underplanting.
So what’s the most satisfying way to start an edible container garden? Not surprising, I like to try it all, combining different edibles into one container for a pleasing array of textures and colors. I use edible flowers in my mixed pots: for instance, purple basil, orange marigolds, and lemon thyme can vibrant with life in the summer, while. red beets with calendulas can be substituted in the winter months.
But however you choose to try it, growing edibles in containers is tasty, rewarding and good for everyone involved. Bon appetit!