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10 Ideas to Steal from Pine House Edible Gardens

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10 Ideas to Steal from Pine House Edible Gardens

March 28, 2023

Even though it’s officially spring, it’s too early to plant my vegetable garden, as there’s still snow on the ground. But that hasn’t stopped me from plotting and replotting it in my head. This year, I’m taking design cues from Pine House Edible Gardens. I’ve long admired the vegetable gardens they create. They’re colorfully lush, highly productive, and ever so beautiful. Lonna Lopez, a designer at the Oakland-based firm, shares some of the secrets to their bountiful success.

Photography by Caitlin Atkinson.

1. Go tall!

You don’t need acres of land to have a productive edible garden. Lopez and team grow vertically when they can, to make use of all available space. They incorporate trellises, archways, and obelisks into beds, and utilize fences to encourage vining plants to climb. This frees up space in the beds for more veggies, herbs, and blooms.

In this spacious Orinda, CA, garden, Lopez and team placed two wire obelisks inside a bed for cucumbers. In addition to making room for zinnias and herbs, growing cucumbers vertically helps prevent mildew. On the right, Texas tomato cages support and help contain prolific ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes. At the end of the garden, Lopez trained a fast-growing cup and saucer vine along an archway as a cutting flower.
Above: In this spacious Orinda, CA, garden, Lopez and team placed two wire obelisks inside a bed for cucumbers. In addition to making room for zinnias and herbs, growing cucumbers vertically helps prevent mildew. On the right, Texas tomato cages support and help contain prolific ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes. At the end of the garden, Lopez trained a fast-growing cup and saucer vine along an archway as a cutting flower.

2. Don’t forget fruit trees.

“We like to incorporate fruit trees into our vegetable gardens,” says Lopez, who plants them in borders surrounding the raised beds. “It helps to put them in places where there are already lots of pollinators to maximize the impact. Plus, in areas like California, we like to focus the areas in your landscape where you might need to water.”

In this compact Oakland Hills, CA, lot, a Fuyu persimmon tree planted at the garden’s entrance welcomes visitors. At its base Lopez planted a living mulch: silvery dusty miller, hot pink ranunculus, nasturtium, and the native annual Menzies baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii).
Above: In this compact Oakland Hills, CA, lot, a Fuyu persimmon tree planted at the garden’s entrance welcomes visitors. At its base Lopez planted a living mulch: silvery dusty miller, hot pink ranunculus, nasturtium, and the native annual Menzies baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii).

3. Build seating for gardening.

As my back and I have gotten older, we’ve come to really appreciate tall, raised beds, and Pine House Edible Gardens has built some beautiful ones. My favorites feature a ledge where you can sit to weed and harvest, rest your pruners or a basket, and store your water bottle. But take note: these caps take up space, so they work best when you have room for larger beds.

In this 40 by 50-inch plot, the team created two-foot-high raised beds out of redwood, capped with a six-inch wide ledge. Here, Lopez planted native Echinacea in front of a cucumber which climbs up a rectangular trellis screen, while pollinator magnet Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ anchors the back.
Above: In this 40 by 50-inch plot, the team created two-foot-high raised beds out of redwood, capped with a six-inch wide ledge. Here, Lopez planted native Echinacea in front of a cucumber which climbs up a rectangular trellis screen, while pollinator magnet Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ anchors the back.

4. Put heat-loving plants next to walls.

To grow warm season crops like pumpkins, melons, and butternut squashes, plant them where the fruit can grow next to a sunny wall from raised beds, sheds, or fences. The walls will absorb heat from the sun and help the fruits ripen faster.

Above: Lopez encourages a ‘Champion’ pumpkin to trail down the wall of the raised bed interplanted with oregano and leeks.
Above: Above: Lopez encourages a ‘Champion’ pumpkin to trail down the wall of the raised bed interplanted with oregano and leeks.

5. Grow pollinator attractors.

A prolific edible garden needs pollinators—bees, wasps, butterflies, and other insects that pollinate plants—to be productive. Lopez and team fill their veggie beds with colorful blooms that will lure them.

Above: In the bed to the left, Lopez incorporated a cheerful mix of insect-loving yellow marigolds, pink zinnias, black scabiosa, and cup and saucer vine, climbing up an obelisk.

6. Tuck annual cutting flowers into beds.

There are many reasons why Lopez likes to plant cutting flowers throughout edible beds. First, they attract pollinators. Second, they can fill in gaps while slower-growing vegetables are getting started. Third, since they’re incorporated into a productive vegetable garden where there is lots to see, you won’t create gaping holes when you snip them for arrangements, like you might if you were cutting out of your front yard, for example.

Above: The more you cut ranunculus, the more they produce. Lopez mixed this hot pink variety with silvery dusty miller, and the annual native Menzies baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii).
Above: Above: The more you cut ranunculus, the more they produce. Lopez mixed this hot pink variety with silvery dusty miller, and the annual native Menzies baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii).

7. Blend warm and cool colors.

“When you mix flowers in contrasting colors, they pop,” says Lopez. “They have a big impact from a distance.” When selecting plant combinations, she recommends searching for varieties that have both warm and cool tones in a single flower to keep the combinations from clashing.

Lopez loves the warm-toned peachy-orange cultivar Leucospermum &#8\2\16;Spider&#8\2\17; because it has hints of cool-toned purple in it. She often plants it with contrasting violet-hued plants like Salvia caradonna. “They complement each other,” she says.
Above: Lopez loves the warm-toned peachy-orange cultivar Leucospermum ‘Spider’ because it has hints of cool-toned purple in it. She often plants it with contrasting violet-hued plants like Salvia caradonna. “They complement each other,” she says.

8. Vary texture.

It’s not just about color. The Pine House Edible team makes sure to blend different textured foliage and blooms, mixing fine-leafed varieties with larger ones. “One trick I learned from my floral design days to see if your design is working is to take a picture of a plant grouping and convert it to black-and-white. Can you see a difference between tone and shape?” says Lopez. “If not, make changes.”

 At the entrance to the vegetable garden, the team planted flaxen-colored Deschampsia ‘Northern Lights’, a fine-textured variegated grass with a little pink in it, on both sides of the path. Wispy lavender ‘Phenomenal” on the left echoes the texture of the grass. To contrast these elements, they planted bold peachy-orange Leucospermum &#8\2\16;Spider&#8\2\17; and succulent pale green Echeveria elegans. Gomphrena decumbens with medium-sized foliage grows through the gate. When it blooms it produces tiny magenta fluffball flowers.
Above: At the entrance to the vegetable garden, the team planted flaxen-colored Deschampsia ‘Northern Lights’, a fine-textured variegated grass with a little pink in it, on both sides of the path. Wispy lavender ‘Phenomenal” on the left echoes the texture of the grass. To contrast these elements, they planted bold peachy-orange Leucospermum ‘Spider’ and succulent pale green Echeveria elegans. Gomphrena decumbens with medium-sized foliage grows through the gate. When it blooms it produces tiny magenta fluffball flowers.

9. Mind the pathways.

Pine House Edible Gardens likes to use decomposed granite (DG) for pathways. The material is permeable and compacts firmly. “Unlike pea gravel, which can make you feel like you’re walking on the beach, DG is easy to walk on,” says Lopez. “You can practically do it barefoot.”

Since the raised beds are two feet in height, Lopez designed the paths to be about four feet wide, which allows for a wheelbarrow to move through easily. “When beds are tall, paths feel better if they’re wider,” says Lopez. “If you make them too narrow, they can begin to feel cramped.”
Above: Since the raised beds are two feet in height, Lopez designed the paths to be about four feet wide, which allows for a wheelbarrow to move through easily. “When beds are tall, paths feel better if they’re wider,” says Lopez. “If you make them too narrow, they can begin to feel cramped.”

10. Edge beds with herbs.

When planning the design of each bed, Lopez recommends placing herbs along the edges. “When they spill over, they help soften the look of the beds,” she says. We think about the color and the texture of every herb and then repeat them throughout the beds,” Lopez says. “The herbs keep the beds looking beautiful all season long even when you’re transitioning vegetables, such as when you replace cool-season varieties with heat-lovers, for example.”

In this bed, Lopez planted fine-leaf tarragon, grass-like chives, and purple variegated sage, and repeated plantings of purple and green basil down the edge of this bed filled with peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
Above: In this bed, Lopez planted fine-leaf tarragon, grass-like chives, and purple variegated sage, and repeated plantings of purple and green basil down the edge of this bed filled with peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

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