James Hilyard is Ipswich City Council’s Infrastructure and Environment Department, Acting City Maintenance manager.
James is a horticulturalist, arborist and holds a masters degree in sustainability.
In this month’s column, James shares his tips on how to get the most out of your garden – throw out the rule book and mix herbs, flowers and vegetables together.
We are in for a long, hot and dry summer.
Between the weather heating up and all the chaos happening at this busy time of year, I’ve come up with the perfect gardening solution.
I want to garden smarter not harder and only use my precious tank water on plants I can eat.
It’s a veggie patch with a twist – the French call it ‘potager’.
A potager garden is a delightful mix of flowers, vegetables and herbs.
You might see beans happily climbing with sweet peas, boarders of parsley and beds of violas.
Chucking everything in together is a great solution around the busy Christmas period while making the most of the peak growing weather.
Now is the time to get started on your integrated veggie patch so your plants are ready for harvest ahead of Christmas lunch.
Not just a pretty sight
Planting flowers and vegetable together is far more beneficial than just looking great.
Growing flowers among the herbs and vegetable attract bees and butterflies as pollinators are very important in the garden.
If the flowers on a pumpkin vine, for example, are not pollinated they will not turn into vegetables.
French marigolds will protect your plants from nematodes.
Pot marigolds or calendulas will produce beautiful orange or yellow flowers that are edible and can be added to salad.
Tomatoes and basil are excellent companions in the garden and will keep pest and diseases away from each other.
By mixing up your plants and not heaping one type of vegetable together, helps keeps the pests at bay.
Pests find plants by smell and sight so having a few strong smelling plants among your garden, like rosemary and lavender, can help.
How to get started
If you are starting from scratch my best advice is to use raised garden beds and even better if you can tier the beds to give some height.
Other considerations to your design can be the line, colour and even texture of the plants and even better to have a focal point to bring the whole design together.
My favourite is an espalier fruit tree, which is a technique that encourages trees to grow flat, usually along a wall.
Apples and Pears are the most common but citrus is my favourite.
Start with well drained soil in full sun.
Forget about traditional rows.
Think cross-shaped, triangular, diagonals and zigzags.
Circles and chequerboard patterns can also look great.
I would start with some key foundation herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme) and grow season vegetable amongst them (lettuce, tomato, sweet corn, capsicums and strawberries).
Rosemary in particular loves hot and dry conditions and will grow well in Ipswich.
Parsley is one herb that most kids will eat, so grow plenty of that.
Flowers can then be used as borders or fillers but keep in mind the scale of the garden.
Try marigolds, chamomile, viola and nasturtiums.
A focal point in the middle could be a pot full of overflowing ornamental kale or snake beans.
If you want something less labour intensive or you have large areas of garden bed to cover you can either mulch over it for the summer or pop in some pumpkins or watermelon to look great, keep the weeds at bay and produce food without too much effort.
Hot and dry summers slow the growth of plants and concentrates the oil and flavours making them more fragrant and flavoursome.
By growing your own food, you can chose varieties that are known for their flavour over how well they can handle packaging without bruising or food that is breed to look good but sadly lacks taste.
My love of home grown fruit can be traced back to a single, mouth-watering memory.
I was an apprentice and working in the garden of the Prime Minister’s Lodge in Canberra.
I was working in the kitchen garden at the Lodge when I noticed a big ripe apple on the tree close to me.
It was such a long time ago (Bob Hawke was PM at the time) and I had never had a Pink Lady apple before as you certainly couldn’t buy such exotic fare at the supermarket.
It was following one long hot summer that I picked the apple from the tree and took a big bite.
The taste was amazing.
I had never eaten anything so sweet and juicy and of course fresh. It is safe to say that I have never had an apple like it since.
Sit back and enjoy
Once your potager is up and going you will be able to sit back in time for Christmas lunch, open a bottle of something flavoursome and admire your edible flowers growing among the salad ingredients.