Garden Photo of the Day

Harriet’s vegetable garden in Maine

In 2012 the zinnias looked great with brussel sprouts, a combination I should repeat. That year they were visible from our deck. This is the bed with tomatoes and marigolds this year.
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Harriet Robinson

Today we’re continuing our August tour of Harriet Robinson’s garden in Maine with a look at her veggie patch. She says, “My love is ornamental gardening, mostly flowering perennials, but I feel that I should grow vegetables since I am into growing things.

In this overview the pool garden with perennials is visible in the lower right. The various raised beds are the subjects of this post. The field is full of goldenrod. Our bees are doing poorly with all the rain we have had and hopefully they will get plenty of fall nectar. There is a lot of milkweed in the field but we aren’t seeing many monarch butterflies yet. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Harriet Robinson

“Certainly the quality of what I can grow myself is vastly superior to what I can buy so I spend time planting, maintaining, harvesting, and preserving my produce. It is a pretty normal thing to do in rural Maine and a frequent topic of conversation (“How is your garden doing?”).

This year calendula and dill accompany the blue green brussel sprout leaves. Lettuce towers up in the middle of the photo. I save the seed from red oak leaf lettuce. Some has been replanted for fall lettuce. Dill hides the pole beans but their structure shows. The ferny foliage of asparagus in the top left is quite beautiful. One of 11 ripening Conn field pumpkins is sprawled on the lawn. The white phlox on the top right is from the pool garden.  Broccoli has similar foliage to brussel sprouts and looks almost as pretty. I put in seedlings a few weeks ago when garlic came out of another bed. Their seedlings, along with kale, are still small and not photo worthy yet. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Harriet Robinson

“It is also really hard as weather and pests create problems. Two years ago I had zillions of cucumbers and last year not a one. Last year I had too much winter squash and this year both plants withered and died. This is my best tomato crop in years but the cucumbers are so-so.

I like to grow zinnias so that I have a source for cutting flowers. This year the smaller ones are ‘Cut and Come’ and the larger are ‘State Fair’. I started both from seed this spring under lights (along with many vegetable seedlings). I have found that an Earthbox greatly increases my pepper yield. They camoflage well with the foliage. I have already used and frozen many and have more to come. This bed also has dill, zucchini and summer squash. I was really on top of squash bugs this year, removing egg masses frequently and as a result have healthy plants. To the right tomatoes and marigolds share another bed. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Harriet Robinson

“Since the vegetable raised beds are in the same back yard as the formal garden, I try to make them pretty, although they usually turn into jungles. Combining flowers helps them look prettier and attracts beneficial insects. I am completely organic in my methods and I rely heavily on compost and mulch (newspapers covered with leaves and grass clippings. All photos were taken on August 28 except the two from 2012 put in for comparison.”

Last summer it was dry (note the lawn is brown and there are hoses running to their soaker connections; this summer the vegetables have not been watered at all except when planted). I grew a larger kale along with tomatoes where the zuccnini, etc, are this year. In the foreground is an iris bed. Since iris look pretty bad much of the season, I put in annuals with them. This fall all iris are moving to a new raised bed that is not so visible (this shows from the deck where we sit) and I am thinking of using this bed for herbs, scattered here and there at present, and annuals. I do like bachelor buttons and calendula together. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Harriet Robinson

For someone who just “feels like she should” grow vegetables, Harriet, your veggie patch is stunning! I love how you’ve mixed in flowers, and I’m soooooo envious of your tomato crop.

I always grow marigolds with tomatoes. I doubt they help with insect repulsion but they look pretty. These are sunsugar cherry tomatoes, the sweetest tomato I have ever eaten. They ripen to orange. Hornworms are in this crop and I hand pick them daily marveling at what camouflage artists they are. The pole bean garden is to the right. In the left bed are cucumbers (barely visible) and a volunteer pumpkin that overtook more cucumbers. What looks vacant on the left at the far end is where the broccoli ad kale seedlings are, planted a few weeks ago when garlic came out of that bed. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Harriet Robinson

This is prime time to take some photos in your garden. So get out there with your cameras and send some in! Email them to [email protected].

In this close-up I realize that ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard deserves a more visible place. Zucchini is behind it with big yellow flowers. The bottom of the cucumber trellis barely shows on the left. They are slow in coming this year. I hope a lot more ripen before it gets cold as I am behind on making pickles. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Harriet Robinson
The slicing tomato crop is the best I have had in years. I cleaned out a lot of dead foliage yesterday and the green and red fruit really shows. A sage I grew from seed this year is in the foreground. It’s perennial and will move to the new herb bed. There’s parsley here, as well, and basil. The basil isn’t doing so well. I think it likes more heat than we have had, or maybe it is shaded too much by larger plants. I picked it heavily the other day and am hoping for a comeback. It is planted in another place, too. In the top of the photo is the main pumpkin crop. At the very top left a few of the blueberry bushes are visible. They form a barrier between the pool perennials and vegetable land. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Harriet Robinson

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View Comments


  1. user-1020932 08/30/2013

    harriet, yesterday looked beautiful and today looks beautiful AND delicious. how do you have the time?!?!?

  2. User avater
    meander_michaele 08/30/2013

    What an amazingly well thought out and well tended vegetable garden...very impressive. The one thing missing was a picture of the shed where you store your massive supply of Energizer batteries which you must swallow by the handful. I really awed by all that you do. Those brussel sprout leaves are decorative as most ornamental cabbages.

  3. gloriaj 08/30/2013

    This is the prettest vegetable/perennial garden I have ever seen. I can see a lot of thought went into the planning. My favorite is the Swiss Chard, Zinnas, and Zucchini. Look perfect together. I agree growing what you eat is better in quality. Good job.

  4. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 08/30/2013

    I didn't think I would be commenting on a vegetable garden, but I am moved by the beauty of the brussel sprouts. So cool. My wife has forbidden me to grow vegetables, especially tomatoes. She says they average $50 a pound based on my yield of one or two tomatoes a season....Love your pool garden.

  5. cwheat000 08/30/2013

    Wow, even your vegetables are beautiful! I love how you have mixed your beds with flowers. With all the things I have grown, I have never grown zinnias. Yours definitely make it a must to try. There is something so basic and wonderful about growing your own food. I was so pleased to see my 4 year old, grab a bunch of my seeds and get into it. She labeled nothing, planted them all over the place in my different flower beds, watered them on own, and wound up growing better veggies than me. I entered 5 of her vegetables and 1 of her flowers for her in the Bridgewater country fair's junior division, and she won 5 ribbons (2 firsts,2 seconds, and 1 third ). The third placed one was (rattlesnake variety) beans. She may have done better on that one, but she started eating her entry on collection day, we had to scramble and pick 2 more that were not of uniform size. That 3rd place ribbon is probably the one we will remember most fondly. What she and you have helped me learn from that is, vegetables look good in flower beds and flowers look good in vegetable beds( you got your chocolate in my peanut butter, you got your peanut butter in my chocolate -remember that Reese's commercial?).

  6. cwheat000 08/30/2013

    I forgot to thank you for all the great commentary you gave with the great photos.

  7. annek 08/30/2013

    You've revolutionized the way I think about veggie gardens! I have a cute little tickseed and a climbing rose in my veggie garden, but you've shown me how to expand that! Next year there will be marigolds, zinnias, calendula and bachelor buttons paying homage to the veggies. Very charming and well done! Thank you for sharing.

  8. tractor1 08/30/2013

    I love all the little raised beds, been thinking of doing the same as my veggie gardnen is too wet and too large... it's time to have less growing area and less wet... this year I lost a month of growing season with the constant spring rains. I noticed you have your lumber staked differently from mine, I drill holes directly through the lumber for the rebar. Good job, Harriet.

  9. GrannyMay 08/30/2013

    Harriet, growing your ornamental and vegetable gardens must be a full-time job! Such a lot of very hard work and constant vigilance, but so worth it when you get to harvest your own vegetables! Both beautiful and delicious.

  10. sheila_schultz 08/30/2013

    Harriet... I'm in awe of your mixed vegie beds and completely exhausted at the same time. You are one high-energy woman!
    Quite seriously, what I love most about this post are your explanations of how and why you position specific plants. The view from your deck being most important. You are an artist, not only in your perennial beds, but also with your vegetable gardens.

  11. ncgardener 08/30/2013

    I love this, great job. You have given me so many ideas for next year.

  12. appaloosa 08/30/2013

    That Swiss Chard is so pretty. I like the way you describe everything. Lately when I click on enlarge, everything is really big and I appreciate that.

  13. mainer59 08/30/2013

    Thank you, everyone! Tractor1: do try raised beds. They help considerably with drainage and heat up better. Weeds don’t grow in from outside the bed, either. My son built them for me. He used liquid nails to stick them together and then the rebar support. They seemed too high at first (because of the sloping yard they stick up on one end) but I have found the height an asset in maintenance. Meander1 and GrannyMay: I garden 2 to 3 hours most days, with longer stints up to 5 hours in the spring and fall. It gives me all the exercise I need and stimulates me mentally. I divide my tasks into routine stuff done daily (deadheading, pest patrol, etc) and projects (dividing, planting seedlings, cutting down spent plants, staking, pruning, etc.). I keep a journal and make lists so that I know what has to be done each day and what can wait until later. I even have a list started for things I want to do next spring (as opposed to my fall list). I weed for 5 minutes or so daily, but I spend a lot of time mulching earlier on so that the weeding is minimal. Vojt: try to sneak in one sunsugar cherry tomato, or sungold if you can’t find sunsugar. The fruit is like nothing you can buy. Find a sunny spot and your wife will love the result.Notice that it does get tall and rangy. cwheat000: you are lucky your daughter loves gardening. Mine hates it, although when she was small I didn’t do it to the scale I do now. Kudos to her on her ribbons! Annek and everyone else: do slip in a veg with flowers or flowers with veg. Only grow the veg you can’t get at a market in a decent quality or at a good price and you will be glad you did. The most common annuals like marigolds and zinnias have stood the test of time for a reason: easy to grow and look good. You can eat the nasturtiums (mine are hiding under pumpkins) and calendula in salads.

  14. User avater
    meander_michaele 08/30/2013

    Harriet, your garden work schedule sounds much like mine and I, too, find it soothing...yet mentally stimulating. The plentiful rainfall that my area has had has been a much appreciated gift since it means I have been off hose dragging duty for the areas not part of the irrigation system. Last year I joked that I was in training for a not yet official sport called Competitive Hose Dragging...I felt sure I would be a "contender" in my senior age group.

    cwheat000, loved the story about your daughter's success at the county fair. Hope you commemorated it with pictures of her proudly holding her ribbons to bring back smiles in the years to come.

  15. mainer59 08/30/2013

    meander1: I figure many of us have that kind of schedule. People who work full time (I work just part time) are the ones I am in awe of! I, too, loved not being on hose detail this year. Last year I had a spread sheet so that I could keep track of which garden needed water next. Some were on their own completely. In addition to the mental and physical aspect of gardening, there is, of course, the creative. It is a never ending project. Just being outdoors is, as you say, soothing. I like the break winter snows give me, when I can read about gardening but not do it. Then, in the spring, I am anxious to get started.

  16. wildthyme 09/05/2013

    What a gorgeous view! I particularly like the stepped down raised bed. What a clever way to work with your slope. Beautiful job.

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