Flowers and vegetables coexist nicely in half-barrel gardens

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Two years ago I was given a half barrel along with a rose bush, and a couple of patio tomato plants. The rose in the center took up most of the space so the tomatoes made do by simply hanging over the side. The effect was pleasing: pink-white roses up top with red tomatoes below. The following year I planted strawberries around the rose. They quickly covered the soil with a carpet of green and soon the runners were dangling over the side so that the barrel looked as though it was dressed in a kind of green Hawaiian skirt.

What I learned from those two seasons was that a barrel can easily be made to look pretty no matter what you put in it, and that food plants and flowers often go great together.

This year, using the three barrels I told you about last week, I plan to grow (A) a salad garden, (B) a flower garden, and (C) one that is a mixture of the two. The barrels are each 24 inches in diameter. If you plan to follow along, you will need a ruler, and a piece of stick about the size of a pencil. These are the steps I plan to take:

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Tub A (tomatoes, lettuce, onions, radishes).

1.From the north end of the tub, measure four inches and draw a line in the soil across the tub (see figure 1). Now measure an additional eight inches and draw another line; four more inches and draw a third line. Finally draw three more lines, each two inches apart.

2.On the top line push two little twigs or sticks into the soil about four inches in from the side. This is where two patio tomato plants will go when it is warm enough. If there is no danger from frost in your region, you can plant the tomatoes right away.

3.On the next line, plant three buttercrunch or looseleaf lettuce seedlings. The outside two go in three inches from the side of the tub and the third one in between them.

4.On the remaining four lines, plant onion sets (little onion bulbs) two inches apart. Push the bulbs in until they are level with the top of the soil. You should have room for between 30 and 36 sets.

5.Finally, scatter radish seed in the soil between the tomatoes and the lettuce while they are still small. They will grow and be harvested before the other plants grow big enough to need all the space. Doing this is called intercropping.

Tub B (marigolds, trailing nasturtiums).

1.Draw the first line across the tub, four inches from the top and two more lines each six inches apart.

2.Plant three dwarf marigolds along the top line then two and one on the next two lines (see figure 2). They can be either seeds or seedlings.

3.All around the edge of the tub (about two inches in from the side) sow trailing nasturtium seeds about eight inches apart. They will grow over the sides of the tub, making it look very pretty.

In this tub, I plan to plant onion sets in the spaces between the little seedlings. They grow attractive green leaves when they are small. Like the radish in the first tub, they will be pulled as green scallions before the flowers need all the space.

Tub C (eggplant, ruby lettuce, marigolds).

1.Draw the first line across the tub four inches from the top and the next two lines each eight inches apart.

2.On the top line, plant two eggplant four inches in from the side. (see figure 3).

3.On line two, plant three red-leafed lettuce.

4.On line three, plant three dwarf marigolds.

In this tub I will plant either radishes or onion sets while the main plants are still young.

What I've listed above are just suggestions. You might want to grow different plants. That's fine. Half the fun of gardening is trying out new and different plants.

Remember too, I have suggested plants for a sunny garden. If you have more shade than sun, you should replace the marigolds with begonias or impatiens. Lettuce and onions grow fairly well in shade but tomatoes and eggplant want plenty of sun to do well.

Next week: Gardening in bags.

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