Not by the Book

Gardening books will tell you all sorts of things, that actually, you can ignore, or work around with a bit of cunning. For a start, they will tell you not to plant under trees. Well, that makes sense because the tree roots will rob plants of moisture and nutrients. I plant out in pots under the trees so that no precious garden bed space is wasted. Yesterday I topped up these pots with new compost and yummy plant food (that is my positive spin for the children, so that when they smell the unmistakable aroma of chicken poop and blood and bone in the garden, they won't complain, they will say, 'Mmm, plant food...' That is my plan, anyway), and soon I will plant them out with spinach and garlic and lettuce.

However, if you look closely, you will see that there are still plants growing under the apricot tree - parsley, which admittedly isn't thriving as much as other parsley in the garden, but is still growing, and still useful, and wild rocket and calendula, which are so tough they will grow up between paving stones, so shouldn't find competition with a tree root very hard going. Bear in mind though, that this tree is growing in what is essentially a garden bed, which I cover with compost and manure and pea straw every year, and water regularly. I wouldn't rush out and plant under a fifty year old pine tree in the backyard. That really would be pushing gardening boundaries. I also wouldn't plant under a citrus tree, because they have really shallow roots that don't like to be disturbed. There should be nothing growing under a citrus tree, not even grass, and it should be mulched and fed well, because it is needy. If you want lemons you must treat the tree like a botanical princess..

Just up from the pots under the apricot tree is another gardening no-no. Tomatoes growing in near full shade.

Again, the books will tell you that you need six to eight hours of full sun to grow vegetables. Well, commercial growers do, because they need maximum yields from their crops. But if you are a backyard gardener you will inevitably be struggling with the space factor, and sometimes the only space available is in the shade. These tomatoes get two hours' sun at the most per day. They aren't the biggest or most prolific tomato plants I have ever grown, but they have been steadily producing tomatoes since early February (I took this photo after I'd picked the day's tomatoes, of course!). And I have a lot more tomatoes than if I had not planted them at all, due to not having perfect conditions for them.

Here are some more vegies growing in the shade. I call this The Mini-Farm. Five pots outside the shed. Last winter they grew red chard, lettuce and snowpeas. This summer, beans on (wonky) bamboo tripods, and tomatoes.

These guys only get afternoon sun, maybe three or four hours. The tomatoes have ripened much later than the ones in the front yard in full sun, but again, staggered harvests are quite useful for the home gardener. The beans have been bearing prolifically for two months now. This one on the end is trying to move in with the neighbours.

Plants in pots are so wonderfully generous. Give them a square foot of soil, and some water, and a little sunshine, and they will just keep on giving until their roots have taken up every inch of pot, then they'll give some more.

Mind you, I try to be very kind to them. I have found that a mixture of potting mix, compost, some water retentive product like coir, dynamic lifter (chicken poop), blood and bone, and dolomite lime is a good growing medium. I also add at least ten percent garden soil to the mix, because it just feels right to be adding whatever it is from the soil that makes it alive and kicking, and so full of microbes and other good things. I water every day, and try to remember to water with a seaweed solution and fish emulsion every fortnight.

So even if you can't provide any space other than in the shade, under a tree, you can still grow vegetables, and here is a marvellous thing, if you garden in pots in the courtyard on the paving, you can do the gardening in your slippers.


just what I needed to read today. have started a herb spiral and was getting a bit stumped as to what to plant that we would use on the shadier side. I may end up with some tomatoes there after all otherwise the full sun side would be chockers and the other side well pretty much empty. V much a beginner gardener here really so pleased to get this advice and encouragement from a 'real' gardener not just sticking with the books. Its good to break the rules sometimes : )
Jo said…
Wouldn't say 'real' gardener, just enthusiastic experimenter! Try strawberries on the shady side - they are woodland plants. Also oregano and thyme grow anywhere, under any conditions. In fact, oregano will self-seed everywhere. Violets - for candied violet cake-toppers! And, lucky you up there in the warm - lemongrass, ginger, turmeric. Try them all in the shade, and move them if they look too sad. In fact you will find things like lettuce actually prefer the shade, especially in the summer in Qld! All the best in the garden. It's terribly addictive.
a really inspirational post, jo. much better than a gardening book (which would make me feel liek a failure). the cruel summer has taken its toll on my vegies; that and my lack of experience. but each failure is a lesson, and as i was pulling spent bean bushes out on the weekend (i dug them back in to the soil) i started working out what i should and could do better. i don't feed my soil enough so i want to really boost it up over the dormant months, ready for next spring.
i'm also going to try growing garlic in pots this year! and i'm finally going to get a new lemon tree; i've never been happy with the one that was here when i moved in.
Jo said…
I have never grown garlic in pots either e, so that will be a first for both of us. I figure the apricot tree is deciduous so the garlic will get the winter sun. I will be growing some in full sun as well to hedge my bets. Remember to add dolomite lime. Garlic loves lime. But you are lucky, you have a first class gardener dad to ask for advice. How is his garden going after the fires?
Anonymous said…
Love reading about Gardeners. I can dream tonight that I am leading The Good Life. With my own Tom. But no time to do so In Real Life. Spent 2 hours pruning and weeding on the weekend. I do a good line in savage rose vines. 2 hours and I tended less than 10% of my yard/garden

I do dream of living in Tassie. It goes with my dream of being a gardener and having an orchard and a beautiful old house. Your weather is so conducive to these fantasies. Are you Tassie born and bred? I wouldn't want to run my fantasies by testing them out!
Jo said…
Hey Lucinda, gardens are so satisfying, frustrating and guilt-inducing, and they eat up weekends like nobody's business. But I still love mine! I am especially in awe of people who work full-time and also garden. That is above and beyond...

I love living in Tas, because I hate the heat, and love small town living, but I also love the gardens that are possible in warmer places. We moved from Adelaide 17 yrs ago, and the long growing season there was wonderful, if hot. Every locale has its own pros and cons, it's just a matter of finding what thrives where you are, and deciding to love that.. you could rip out the savage roses and grow fantastic passionfruit instead..

I'm sorry, I just can't resist advising people to plant food. It is my hobby horse. Do ignore...
Heather said…
I guess I'm lucky with my lemon tree. It was here with the house when we bought it and I've never even needed to water it. It is huge and has a life of its own.
Jo said…
Big lemon trees are the best, and you live in the best climate for them. We live right on the edge of the climate zone suitable for citrus here in Tasmania, and we have to baby them. Having said that, there are plenty of big old, neglected trees in Tassie backyards that produce abundantly, so I'm hoping when mine grow up I can be more blase about them. Lemon trees lend such a sense of luxury, don't they?

Popular Posts