This Year’s Vegetable Garden, So Far

I have to admit I don’t do much with edible gardening. Actually, I’m far more interested in growing food for the birds than for people. Generally, I find ornamental perennials, grasses, and shrubs far more satisfying than vegetables. Also, vegetables want space in full sun, which is in limited supply. (Note: all pictures are Judy’s unless otherwise noted.)

Our vegetable and herb plot.
Our vegetable and herb plot. Jason picture.

To the extent that we do grow edibles, it’s because Judy believes firmly that you can’t have a proper home without some kind of vegetable garden. Also, we like to have fresh herbs for cooking.

And so we have an irregularly triangular plot pointing south, with a south facing trellis for tomato vines at the base. This is in the front yard, behind the bed with the crabapple tree and the Asiatic lilies, which partially blocks the view from the street.

green tomatoes

The tomatoes are pretty happy so far. I’m growing just three plants, each a different variety: Celebrity, Early Girl, and Black Cherry (an heirloom cherry tomato). Celebrity is a determinate tomato, meaning that a certain point the vines stop growing. We’ll see.

Because of the cold spring, I waited until May 22, a week after our average frost-free date, to plant the tomatoes. I might have waited longer, as the transplants sulked in the continuing cool weather.  Eventually, though, they started to thrive in the plentiful rain and gradually increasing warmth. Right now there are lots of unripe tomatoes, and I don’t think any will be ready to pick for 10-14 days.


Tomatoes are the only actual vegetables that we grow. The remainder of this patch is taken by herbs and a few flowers.

There’s a patch or oregano (Origanum officinalis).  In a struggle reminiscent of the Roman legions trying to keep the Germanic tribes from crossing the Rhine, I am constantly whacking the oregano back to prevent it from overrunning the garden and then the entire neighborhood, seizing all our gold and livestock. It does have flowers much loved by pollinators, though (the oregano, not the Germanic tribes).


There’s some sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) and some Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora) . These are the herbs we actually use most frequently. And there are a couple of patches of thyme (Thymus vulgaris) that we don’t use but that provide more food for beneficial insects.



Thyme in flower

Then there’s the Swallowtail Buffet – Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) , Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) , and Dill (Anethum graveolens). All three are host plants for Swallowtail butterflies, but I have yet to see a single Swallowtail caterpillar. Very thoughtless of them, I say!

Parsley and Dill
Parsley and Dill in bloom


Self-sown fennel.
Self-sown fennel.

There are some flowers, too. Marigolds (Tagetes patula) around the tomatoes, on the theory that they repel harmful nematodes. Also, this year I planted a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) amongst the herbs. I love the bright orange flowers of this plant!

veg and tithonia
Mexican Sunflower. jason picture.


veg tithonia

Are you more of an edibles gardener or an ornamentals/wildlife gardener?

62 Comments on “This Year’s Vegetable Garden, So Far

  1. Ah! Also a victim of a tad too much heat last week…”gold and livestock…Germanic tribes?”

  2. I’m more ornamentals but I do have many fruit trees and small veggie garden. We are big on fruit so I have about 15 fruit trees. Harvesting the fruit is a huge chore. As far as the veggies go I tend to just plant alot of what we eat daily. Love the way your thyme is looking. You are brave to plant oregano.

    • I’d love to have fruit trees, specifically cherries – again more for the birds. If I lived in your climate I would have a fig tree. As it is, all I have is a crabapple, plus some fruiting shrubs.

  3. I´m more of an ornamental gardener. I do have a vegetable garden, and grow potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, parsley, thyme, rhubarb and peas, and then I have the greenhouse with tomatoes and cucumbers, peppers and chili. But my heart belongs to the flowers. Next year our veggie patch will be smaller.

  4. I love your approach to “edible gardening” (as you call it) — your bed looks so organic and ornamental. A great model for vegetable and herb gardening.

    • Thank you! My next door neighbors are toying with the idea of planting vegetables in their front yard (for them as well, ti is the only sunny space).

  5. Although my passion is the ornamental garden I also love the satisfaction of growing vegetables, we are nearly self sufficient. nothing beats serving food that you’ve grown yourself. Zero miles and no chemicals.

    • It is wonderful that you grow nearly all your own vegetables. Perhaps I would feel differently if I had more sunny ground.

  6. Hi Jason! I love your little herb & tomato plot! Like Christina i love growing my own for the self sufficiency and the taste, there’s nothing quite like cooking woth your own food and you do get hooked. I also love flowers and very much plant for birds, bees and butterflies. My plot looks more like a garden than a veg patch that’s for sure. I like the idea of mixing the edibles & non edibles together. I started with tomatoes & herbs too, potatoes were the next & it was on from there…

    • I think it would be fun to grow potatoes. I do know that a vegetable plot can be very ornamental, and yours certainly is.

      • Wait till you see the herb garden at Sissinghurst! I think you’ll be very inspired! I’ll post some pictures from there soon.

  7. Hi Jason, thanks for visiting my post after a hiatus. I can post but am absent again today, still sick. And thanks too for the concern. I love the way you respect copyright of people especially Judy’s.

    I envy people who can garden fully in their homes, as i live in the city 5th Floor, and my other plants are in our province too far away. I just had 1day there last wkend and i want to garden more. We want to grow more edibles there but our trees are already tall limiting sunshine, yet we still have a few though not as formal as most of you do. In my 5th Floor would you believe i have 2 pots of tomatoes and a lot more ornamentals in 1.5m X 1m ledge!

  8. I grow rosemary in a container of ornamental plants on the front stoop because it’s the one herb I can’t live w/out. Love your bed. You should try some lettuce or other leaf veggies in the fall…they need less sun since the don’t fruit.

  9. I like to see edibles mixed in with flowers, which is what I also do with my herbs. I dabble in vegetables, with limited success. But this year I have a large container crammed with tomatoes and they look almost as good as yours! Wild strawberries are the only fruit we have, and they provide great ground cover too.

    • I also grow wild strawberries as a groundcover. The fruit isn’t very good though, so I leave it for the birds and animals.

      • The sort we have is delicious, but they are so tiny I hardly ever pick them! (Our dogs get most of them!)

  10. I used to grow a lot of veggies for other people in their gardens, but never did much with them here. I’m still mowing oregano that got into the lawn from a plant we had 15 years ago.

  11. I do both. I have a small veggie garden, with a lot of green and yellow stringbeans, seven tomatoes (three varieties), lettuce, spinach, and sweet basil (I make and freeze pesto sauce every fall.) As you know, I’m growing cucumbers up on a deck–the blessed woodchuck seems not to have re-visited yet. Also growing jalapeno peppers up there in large pots–I want to make jelly with them. Just this spring I moved some of the perennial herbs (oregano, sage, thyme, and tarragon) outside of the garden fence, so there is more room for other veggies inside the fence. I don’t bother growing the various squashes–they take up too much space and I can buy them for a dime a dozen at farm markets all summer. I plant zinnias and sunflowers amongst the vegetables, and they are great butterfly attractors.

    I have several tomatoes that look like yours–I wonder which of us will get a ripe one first!

  12. I love that it’s in your front yard. I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a veggie bed in my front yard (tucked away behind something as yet to be determined) but wasn’t sure if it would look weird. Your post is inspiring me to really consider the front yard as veggie central next year (I have a community garden plot for my vegetables but want more).

    • There are several books out there about growing food in the front yard. You can always plant shrubs to hide the veggies away.

  13. Looks like a great little space. Would you recommend submerging a large clay pot to constrain the oregano like mint? Can’t stand invasive plants especially when you’re limited on space. You didn’t mention your tomato varieties. I’m growing exclusively ‘Celebrity’. With limited space, it’s certainly been the most prolific for me.

    • Putting the oregano in a pot would help some. Oregano spreads by the roots and also re-seeds prolifically. And grows really fast.

  14. My heart is in my native plants (especially perennials) and all the animals they support, but we have a vegetable garden, too. I’ve started growing a few flowers in there to help draw in the pollinators, but we primarily grow the cool weather crops (broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, kale, spinach, onions) and tomatoes.

  15. Jason – I’m with you on the ornamentals/feed wildlife side. I do keep some herbs, but I buy my veggies from a farmer friend! That said – if I had room, I would probably grow some fruit and veggies too. Good to learn about the swallow tail host plants. I currently have two out of three, and now I’ll be sure to nurture those especially. 🙂

    • I don’t have a farmer friend, but there is are several good farmers’ markets. We’ve thought about joining a CSA club, but I don’t think it would work for us.

      • The way my farmer friend does it is ingenious. None of the typical CSA huge boxes of veggies you don’t have time (or enough family members) to consume in a week. Instead, she sends out an email each week, stating what she has available, and how much it costs. You just order what/how much you want by Tuesday night. If you are gone, or aren’t planning to cook, you just skip that week. She delivers to each buyer on Wed/Thursdays. We love her for making it so manageable!

  16. I used to grow more vegetables but someone kept planting trees and bamboo in my yard and now there is very little sunny space left. Still grow a few herbs like fennel and rosemary and sometimes have a few pots of basil and a few tomatoes. This year, not even basil and tomatoes. Maybe next year, with inspiration from The Beautiful Edible Garden that we got in our gift bags, I’ll try more veggies out in my parking strips!

    • Ah yes, those neighborhood vandals who keep planting woody plants in the yard. Something must be done about that! Perhaps a Three Shrubs And Your Out policy.

  17. Jason, I’m more ornamental gardener but it’s a pleasure to take some herbs, tomato or lettuce from my own vegetable garden.

  18. I’m mostly a veggie gardener with flowers, shrubs and other pretty things carefully tucked in to a) attract beneficial insects and pollinators and b) keep the neighbors from realizing that my yard is a giant fruit orchard and veggie garden. My attempts at greater food self-sufficiency often carry the price of being stigmatized in the neighborhood. Here very few people deviate from the standard lawn and foundation shrubs model, so I have to be sneaky…

    • Some people are far more tolerant than others when it comes to front yard vegetables. You can always claim the fruit trees are just ornamental, though, or that the fruit is incidental.

    • Thanks. I really like it, too. Only thing is it really wants sun and heat, I was afraid it was going to succumb to the cold spring, but it perked up eventually, like the tomatoes.

  19. I think you have to have the edible garden for the body and the perennials for the soul. Plus the perennials bring the native pollinators in for the veggies. I absolutely love Black Cherry tomatoes. They are a real delicacy.

  20. I’m so impressed with the tomatoes. Mine get eaten by squirrels so I have stopped growing them. I gather you not a fan of thyme in cuisine. No matter – it looks pretty, even if you don’t want to eat it.

    • Maybe Chicago squirrels don’t like tomatoes. Judy tends to cook more in winter with dried thyme. For myself, I’m not really sure what it tastes like.

  21. I have been picking tomatoes which are Early Girl this year. The herbs are all in the garden, many I let go to flower like parsley, for the insects. The butterflies seem to want the carrots though, rather than all the herbs I grow for them.

  22. Wow, you pack a lot of veggies and flowers into a small plot! My potager was slow-going this summer, too. I think I need to re-evaluate it for next year. Some of the flowers are thriving, but I’ve definitely had better years.

    • I just noticed the first almost-ripe tomato today. Surprisingly, not the cherry tomato. August and September are the proof-in-the-pudding months for tomatoes.

  23. Thymes are my favourite, I think one of the issues with thyme is that people think you can only use the common thyme in cooking. With the exception of perhaps a half dozen or so, they are all edible.
    I am sure there are plenty of nooks and crannies just crying out for more Thyme.

  24. You just can’t beat freshly picked herbs when cooking! Your toms are looking good, mine are just beginning to ripen.xxxx

  25. Hey I really like the idea of oregano escaping into the lawn! Sounds like some spicy mowing!
    I still do the veggie garden thing. It makes me laugh when I spend all that time and money on $3 worth of beans!

    • Sure, mix it with a little thyme and garlic chives growing in the lawn, and you can mix the lawn cuttings into your spaghetti sauce.

  26. Hi Jason, I’m sure others have pointed this out, but tomatoes are technically a fruit, so you might not be growing any vegetables at all – and so what? Ornamentals are far less stress since it’s not so bad if they get a little disease or get nibbled on.

  27. Like you, I grow herbs for cooking, but am more concerned about growing food for the birds than for me. (Well, I’m also growing food for the woodchucks and the deer, but that’s not intentional.) I sympathize about your fickle butterflies. This year, I left lots of self-sown milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) for the monarch butterflies, but I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly or any butterfly caterpillars. Instead, I seem to have created a 5-star resort for something called the Milkweed Tussock moth; I have hundreds of those caterpillars. I hope the birds enjoy them!

  28. While I have some flowering wonders, I do tend to focus on adding and growing those things that are food and/or Medicine. But, there’s so much cross-over, ya know? Between beautiful blooms and food for me and the wildlife. Nature’s generous like that!

    • Very true, there is a great deal of crossover. This is something gardeners are appreciating more, with edible flowers and ornamental fruits and vegetables.

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