Garden rows were always a problem when I did it all by "eye." It seemed the plants ran all over the place, and even crowded their neighbors across the aisle. To make matters worse, my perceived line of vision gave me nothing but crooked rows and plants sprawling all over the place! Walking, weeding, hoeing, and running a garden tiller were difficult, if not impossible.
Now, I do not have an obsession with straight lines in the garden, but I do want an orderly, well-planned, and organized layout for growing most plants, including vegetables and some perennial ornamentals. Others can be grown successfully in a "cottage garden" setting of decorative ornamentals. For this discussion, we will concentrate on vegetables and some perennials such as irises, both SDB's & TB's.
For the sake of brevity and simplicity, I make plans during the winter, deciding WHAT will be planted WHERE. I try never to plant tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers in the same rows as last year, and other vegetables also are rotated from one spot to another. Sometimes I switch them from one garden to another to avoid diseases, pests, and other problems. The bottom line of this idea is to arrange plants in well-spaced rows and locations easily accessible to the gardener and to gardening equipment, such as rakes, hoes, forks, and mechanical tillers. This simplifies weed control and harvesting and saves time.
Within a few weeks some serious gardening will begin here and across much of the region. We no doubt by now know what we intend to grow, where it will be planted, and how much of each item will be grown. One of the worst mistakes a gardener can make is to overcrowd plants. Depending on how we stake or trellis tomatoes and cucumbers, we don't want them sprawling onto a row of beets or onions. Potatoes too require a LOT of space. So give them ample room. Even with careful planning, I sometimes find that I have squeezed too much into a certain space. Therefore, I would advise you to err on the spacious side. The fourth picture above shows an overgrown iris garden after five years. The original rows were 48" on center apart and 18" from plant to plant. The irises have since been dug up and replanted as shown in the second photo above. Tall bearded irises can make massive clumps, and they need to be divided and replanted when the first signs of overcrowding are seen.
The identification of every plant in the garden is also important to me. I know some of the permanent perennials just by where they are and I know what their names, varieties, and origins are. I use permanent plant markers for perennials and plain old carpenter's shims to label annuals and vegetables. They usually cost less than $3.00 for a pack of 50. They are organic, cheap, and disposable. Some of these ideas are illustrated in the pictures below. A word of caution in planning: Some Zinnia and Cosmos cultivars can reach massive dimensions in late summer. The far right photo below illustrates very large plants. Fortunately, this row was a bare space next to a cornfield, so little harm was done, and they dressed up the area with needed color.
The last part of this article shows how I use some scrap materials and a few tools to create row markers. I use scraps of wood to make markers with 50, 75, and 100-foot lengths of heavy-duty nylon twine. It is manufactured for construction jobs, where straight lines are needed in brick laying and wall accuracy. You will find it in convenient rolls at major home improvement and DIY stores: Lowe's, Home Depot, Menard's, etc. Below are pictures showing: #1 the tools I use, #2 the materials, #3 the finished products, and #4 a row marker stretched over a row of transplanted seedlings.
We all use our own methods, steps, and ideas of garden design and planting. My thoughts are that spring isn't too far away, and these ideas might help with some of your planning. My hopes are that they are worth sharing. Happy gardening!
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