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Most people think of vegetable gardens as a plot of green, leafy plants in boring rows. But that doesn't have to be the case. You can grow edible plants in a spot that rivals the beauty of any flower garden, as the King family of Southern California has done. In a relatively small space (roughly 20 x 20 feet), they grow mouthwatering fruits, vegetables, and herbs -- as well as flowers.
The key to success is to make sure you have the right spot. Most vegetables do best with full sun -- at least eight hours of direct light a day. No matter what kind of soil you have, your vegetables will thank you if you amend the ground with organic matter (such as compost) before planting.
Here's a hint: Site your garden where you can get to it easily. Harvesting fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs is easier if you can quickly dash out and grab what you need (especially while you're cooking) instead of having to trek across the yard.
One easy way to dress up a garden of any sort is to give it a grand entrance. Here, a simple white arbor bedecked with climbing roses does the trick. While climbing roses are a classic pick for growing on an arbor, you can grow anything -- from ornamental clematis or morning glories to edible scarlet runner beans or kiwi.
One trick to make your garden look more attractive is to mix flowers in with your vegetables. Here, Gaillardia 'Oranges and Lemons' adds a bright splash of color. Flowers, especially those in the daisy family, attract beneficial insects. Many of these beneficial bugs attack and kill pests such as tomato hornworms or aphids. Other beneficial bugs pollinate fruit-bearing vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and melons so you have bigger harvests.
Here's a hint: Pick plants with edible flowers so they can do double duty. Add them to salads or desserts and let them attract beneficial insects.
If hungry deer, rabbits, or other critters visit your garden, protect your plants (as here, with a simple 3-foot-tall fence) so the pests don't harvest more than you do. Chicken wire attached around the fence's perimeter keeps small animals out.
Here's a hint: If rabbits, gophers, or other burrowing animals are a problem, your wire fencing will need to extend at least a foot below the ground to keep critters from digging under it.
Raised beds offer many benefits. You can fill them with any type of soil you want (an advantage if your ground is full of clay, sand, or rocks). Raised beds also warm earlier in the spring so you can get a jump on the planting season. And, if you build them 3 to 4 feet wide -- so you can easily reach the middle from both sides -- you'll never compact the soil by stepping on it.
Take advantage of garden-design secrets in your vegetable garden. Here's a great example of the power of repetition: Bright red poppies echo the round fruits of tomatoes. The climbing rose on the arbor is similar to the orange gaillardias and nasturtiums in the far corner.
Add containers of edible plants to your garden -- or to decks and patios -- to expand your space. Ever-bearing strawberries, for example, do well in pots or hanging baskets. The red fruits look decorative hanging over the edges, and are easier to harvest.
Here's a hint: Colorful containers are another way to add a splash of interest to the garden.
Make maintaining your garden easier with a layer of mulch. An inch or two of mulch helps your soil hold moisture during hot, dry weather. It also stops most weeds from sprouting. Plus, mulch keeps many soil-borne diseases from splashing up onto plant leaves and infecting them.
Here's a hint: Spread mulch over your pathways so you won't get muddy feet when you're in the garden.
Flowers aren't the only way to add color to your garden -- a number of vegetables can, too. For example, the Swiss chard shown here adds a bright note to the bed. Other attractive vegetables include eggplant, red cabbage, purple kohlrabi, and red-leaf lettuce. Different tomatoes and peppers bear fruits in shades of red, orange, yellow, cream, purple, and green. And many herbs offer good looks -- including thyme, chives, and parsley.
Natural gardeners know the value of attracting birds to the garden. Many common birds, including robins, mockingbirds, wrens, and warblers eat harmful insects. Include a source of water in your garden to attract your feathered friends. Here, a simple birdbath set among herbs does the trick.
Here's a hint: Birds will appreciate a source of shelter nearby, so if you can, plant a shrub or small tree near your garden.
Use garden ornaments -- from birdhouses to statuary -- to embellish your garden. Anything goes -- as long as it suits your personal style. This blue birdhouse does double duty: It looks good and provides a spot for birds to live.