COMPLEATE HOME GARDENER: Take-home garden show tips on how to eat the front yard

By Marianne Binetti

The first week of February blossoms again with Seattle’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show. This is the show that gets gardeners through the winter months and allows winter-weary mortals to enjoy an early spring. Thankfully, the spectacular display gardens, garden-themed vendors along with an international panel of speakers is back after being sold to a new owner. I’ll be speaking Saturday and Sunday at the show but just in case you cannot attend, here are a few take-home tips from each of my talks.

How to Eat Your Front Yard:

Growing edibles that look good.

The take home message here is to grow a tasteful landscape. You can be a farmer and a great suburban neighbor at the same time. I’ve collected beautiful images from gardens all over the world where people grow food among their flowers, herbs on their city balconies and squash over their arbors. Here are three tips to get you started:

1. Mix marigolds with bush beans and zinnias with carrot tops; Simply appreciating the beauty of beet and carrot tops and using them to border beds or line a walkway can give a whole new meaning to the phrase “going out to dine.” By planting taller, upright annuals like marigolds and zinnias behind your leafy greens you achieve a tidy, formal look that will please even the most fussy neighborhood police.

2. Pot up your favorite foods – but grow it in style.

Tomatoes are easy to grow in containers especially the smaller, more compact patio tomato varieties such as Sweet 100 or the yellow pear tomatoes called Husky Gold. But don’t just fill a half whiskey barrel with some tomato plants and think it will add beauty to the landscape. Splurge on beautiful ceramic pots or terra cotta pots that can add year round color and complement your home. Got a red-painted front door? Black trim around the windows? The frost-proof, shiny, ceramic pots imported from the Far East are not only inexpensive but they can also be left out all winter. Here’s a tasteful plant marriage for a front yard container: Plunk one dwarf tomato plant into the center of a large pot. Surround it with white alyssum. Poke in a circle of tiny onion bulbs or chive plants. You’ll enjoy color, fruit, flavor and attract bees to do your pollinating.

3. Get Vertical for Dramatic Beauty

Squash, cantaloupe, mini pumpkins, cucumbers and even zucchini can be trained to grow up the side of a fence, the siding of your house or even tied to a porch railing. Growing vegetables upright means you may need to hand-tie the vines (I like using strips of nylon stocking) or provide a trellis support system. But there is an easy answer for more laid-back gardeners. Pole beans will grab hold of a string that you can attach from a short stake in the ground to a nail on the sunny side of your house. If you have a wooden fence, all you need is string and nails to support bushels of beans. For more beauty and edible beans try my favorite “Orna-edible” of all time: scarlet runner beans. Just make a simple teepee from bamboo stakes or metal rebar and let these red-flowering vines clamber up the vertical supports to form a formal-looking tower of color. One year I even planted a few scarlet runner beans at the base of a dwarf Alberta spruce. My once-boring evergreen shrub never looked so colorful and of course it was a tasteful display. Maybe your spruce could win the award for “best supporting actor” in a front yard performance.

Chocolate Gardening:

Adding dark rich color to

your landscape (Sunday Talk)

First a disclaimer. You cannot grow chocolate plants in Washington but I do like to pass out chocolate kisses when I give this talk. The chocolate I’ll be speaking about in this seminar is the color chocolate-brown and deep wine red found on dark foliage plants, from the rich black of mondo grass to the burgundy red of heucheras.

There are also some scented geraniums and cosmos that smell like chocolate and a wonderful rich brown mulch made from chocolate bean shells. But the main point to be made about designing with chocolate or dark foliage plants: it’s all in the contrast.

The goal of this design lesson is to consider all the green here in western Washington and then contrast it with darker and also lighter colors. Silver foliage is the secret ingredient in a chocolate or evergreen gardens and a touch of gold goes a long way to lighting up our gray northwest days.

If you have a craving for something rich in your landscape, consider this beautiful recipe for adding a tasteful bit of chocolate contrast to all the green.

Planting Recipe

for a Chocolate Kiss

Position a purple smoke tree with it’s raspberry chocolate leaves in the back of a bed or corner planting. Now surround the dark foliage with a silver foil of Artemisia or Dusty Miller at the base. Use at least five plants. Don’t stop there. Echo the dark foliage of the smoke tree and contrast the silver wrapping of the artemesia by adding black mondo grass or “Obsidian” heuchera near the front of the border or along the edge of the bed. There, now you have a drought- resistant planting that will thrive in poor soil with partial or full sun and is slug and deer resistant as well. All inspired by a little chocolate kiss.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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