“My Name is Julie and I’m an Untidy Gardener”

July 1, 2008

Julie is an organic gardener from England who shared the following story about a transformation that took place out in her formerly “organized” veggie patch. Her experiences offer some great tips for the backyard gardener.

I can almost picture Julie standing in front of a gathering of vegetable growers and delivering the following testimonial at some type of gardener’s anonymous meeting:

Confessions of an Organic Gardener from Great Britain

I used to be a neat and tidy “plant it in rows” type of organic gardener. I covered cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc, with netting but the butterflies always left a good covering of caterpillars.

Then one year I got behind with the preparation and only had room to pop a plant in here and there. Plants were dotted around the garden – not only on the vegetable plot but in amongst the flowers, the front garden, around the pond, everywhere I could find a space.

Of course I couldn’t cover them and I didn’t have the time either. Come harvesting time nearly every plant was in perfect condition with not a caterpillar hole in sight.

I have tried this for about four years now with great success. My conclusion is that the butterflies simply don’t see the plants, and if they do then they only see one at a time so chances are that most will survive untouched.

Plants in rows look lovely but really they are planted that way for ease of spraying and harvesting for the commercial grower. A gardener, especially an organic gardener does not need to plant in rows.

At first I thought planting vegetables in the front garden wasn’t “the done thing.” Possibly passers by think I am a little eccentric but they are quite a talking point and no harm is done.

By the way your site is so interesting; I often pop in to have a look. Some things are the same as in England and some different. I love it all!! – Julie

Spicing Up the Garden with a Variety of Veggies, Herbs, and Flowers

Thanks for sharing the gardening tips Julie, you’re preaching to the converts around here when it comes to shunning planting in rows. I also love to mix things up in the garden rather than to grow large patches of identical and monotonous plants.

It never hurts to add a little variety to the raised vegetable bed by sprinkling in herbs, flowers, or even an occasional wild plant. You can also alternate vegetable plants that have similar growth habits by planting them in the same area and allow them grow elbow to elbow with each other.

I’ve noticed similar results to those described by Julie and believe that diversity in the garden can help reduce insect problems, enhance plant growth, and make for a much more interesting and attractive organic vegetable garden!

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • This sounds like my garden. It may seem a little eccentric to some but I personally think it looks beautiful and much more interesting.

  • I love your take on gardening. Everyone has their own style to gardening no matter if it is vegetable, fruit or perennial gardening.

  • This is a really interesting post. To be honest, while I sometimes have mixed beds, I never thought of them in terms of biodiversity and preventing pest problems. It makes perfect sense.

    There’s nothing like monoculture grown in perfectly formed rows to cause problems in anyone’s garden.

  • Mixing plants is great sport, but care must be taken as to what you mix. Some plants are “antagonistic” to others (do a search on “companion plants” for ideas on good and bad combinations).

    Also, if you believe in crop rotation, improper mixing could be problematic.

    One of my favorite beds this year has cucumbers going North South, chard on immediate west and east, followed by spinach, west and east, followed by chinese cabbage, west and east, then basil, west and east.

    The cucumbers provide some shade to both sides during the day, the chard and chinese cabbage shelters the spinach (as it really is a bit warm for them now), and so on.

    Mixing plants of the same “family” is okay (like nightshades: tomatos, peppers, eggplant), but other combinations can be bad (as noted earlier).

    Best, Mark

  • I too, mix it up in the garden. One smallish bed has Jerusalem Artichokes, garlic, lettuce, pole beans and radishes. Everything is growing like crazy. It seems to me that crowding is ok as long as like plants are separated. Radishes don’t like to grow next to each other but they grow fine next to lettuce or cabbage. Who would have thought?

    In 200 square feet I have over 2000 vegetable plants and I am still adding more. Many, like peas and radishes, will be long gone before the peppers and tomatoes get big. Also pulling out the peas and radishes opens up holes to get compost in around the remaining plants.

  • The only problem I find with disorderly planting is the difficulty in weeding and being able to walk through to get to some of the plants.

    Raised borders are a great solution though.

  • Miss D

    I actually started off gardening this way, as I’m not a “straight line” kind of person! Unfortunately I found it didn’t really reduce pests (I have a serious slug problem, and I think having veg too close to other plants means they have more hiding places and less bare soil to crawl accross) and it made weeding really hard while the plants were small as it was more difficult to tell which were the seedlings and which were weeds. You also need to know exactly how big your plants (both the veg and ornamentals) are likely to get, as I had a lot of trouble with things suddenly overshadowing nearby plants. It works better for things that have been started in pots and transplanted, rather than for directly sown seeds.

    What I do now isn’t too different, though; I’ve started planting many things in rows but they’re still mixed up with the other plants, and they tend to be in interesting curved shapes rather than poker straight lines. Some things are still planted amongst other plants, but they are generally transplanted there when large enough and I try to maintain a reasonable distance from other plants. I also only do this with plants I’m familiar with as I can estimate their ideal spacing more easily and won’t forget what they are!

    However, I am a relatively inexperienced gardener, and I think as I get more confident and more familiar with the plants I’ll be able to mix things up a bit more again.

  • JC

    My vegetable bed is exactly like you describe. I have planted different kind of herbs and vegies on it due to limitation of space. I thought it’s messy and others would not do this. So I am amazed and glad to find out that this is a better way of growing vegetables.

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