Choosing Varities, Zones, Seeds
Vegetables grow in various zones, and knowing which veggies will thrive in your area is essential. Some vegetables need to be started indoors in the spring, while others can be planted directly outdoors if they’re hardy enough.
Shamrockin’ on the Square was not the only decidedly green event held in El Dorado on Saturday. Elsewhere, at the College Avenue Church of Christ Family Life Center, local gardening enthusiasts gathered for the Union County Master Gardeners’ annual Dirt Friends Festival.
The event featured educational content, vendors selling plants, flowers and gardening tools and an informative talk from author and horticulturalist Brie Arthur.
Between swapping stories and tips with fellow local gardeners and enjoying the finger food provided at the free event, attendees took in Arthur’s nearly hour-long presentation, which interwove personal stories, regionally-based gardening recommendations and evangelism for using vegetables, herbs and grains in home gardens.
Arthur, a Michigan native who is now based in North Carolina, has written books including “Gardening with Grains” and “Foodscape Revolution.” Much of her presentation at Dirt Friends Festival focused on how to implement vegetables, herbs and grains in an eye-pleasing way into decorative gardens, also known as a “foodscape.”
“We Americans don’t treat our vegetables very well, we don’t think about aesthetics when it comes to growing food. We’re very much in a farming mentality… with a bunch of straight lines, segregated vegetable plots,” Arthur said.
Arthur said her epiphany came about when her neighborhood’s Homeowner’s Association expressed concerns about vegetable plots in her yard.
“I took out those raised beds and started just throwing the vegetables in… with all the ornamental plants. And you know what they did? They gave me garden of the year,” Arthur said.
Arthur also described how gardening helped engender unity in her family and neighborhood during difficult periods such as the 2008 recession and the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Horticulture] should be the thing that makes your neighbors celebrate you and learn and come together as a community,” she said. “I just wanted to utilize my land in a way that might be a bit more meaningful and I think a lot of people connect to that idea.”
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Arthur, she helped kick off a trend of making strawberry baskets among her neighborhood kids.
“They based these out so everyone in the neighborhood that wasn’t pandemic-related… Now everyone does it every single year, we have a salad bowl planting day,” Arthur said.
Arthur demonstrated her points with pictures of “foodscapes” including her own, showing how vegetables can be grown “in plain sight” among ornamental plants. Gardeners should, she said, find areas of focus that are particularly meaningful to them.
“Focus on things you eat all the time. I eat a lot of garlic, a lot of potatoes [and] an irrational amount of broccoli… Instead of trying to grow a whole bunch of stuff, I focus on growing four or five things in a really meaningful way so when I go to the grocery store I don’t have to buy X, Y, and Z. It makes me feel like what I’m doing to changing a tangible habit,” Arthur said.
Other recommendations included learning about and using regionally-native plants, planting in areas convenient for watering and harvesting and using all existing mulch space.
She also recommended growing implementing staple crops such as corn and rice – the latter of which she learned from a friend who immigrated from Laos and had a sizeable rice garden in his back yard – into ornamental gardens.
The Union County Master Gardeners is a volunteer organization sponsored by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Office. The Union County group is made up of horticultural-trained volunteers who work on several community gardens projects, host an annual plant sale in May and offer numerous educational programs throughout the year.