This Mixed Flower and Vegetable Garden Beautifully Breaks All the Rules
This New Hampshire vegetable garden is a feast for the senses. Check out how one couple transformed a large property into a gorgeous garden full of fresh produce that coexists among flower beds.
From a distance it looks like an artfully designed ornamental garden rolling down the crest of a New Hampshire slope. Lush green hedges segment space, tall shrubs form vertical accents, foxglove spires jut up, mounds of color play off one another, chalky blue leaves provide a leitmotif. But wait. Step deeper into the garden Jenny Lee Hughes has created with husband Edward Yoxen, and you begin to realize that leeks, cabbages, kale, collards, Swiss chard, and Asian greens are interspersed into the landscape. When you wade into this sumptuous Stoddard, New Hampshire, garden, much of the beauty emanates from the backyard-to-plate vegetables that Jenny sprinkles in.
If you get hunger pangs while strolling through Jenny’s garden, then her design strategy has succeeded. Coming from a long line of organic vegetable gardeners, Jenny was brought up on a backyard pick-your-own smorgasbord. But back then, vegetables and flowers were strictly segregated. That approach changed when Jenny got her first apartment in Boston and watched her Puerto Rican and Italian neighbors pack their small city lots with the food and flowers they craved. “They taught me how to make raised beds in places where you wouldn’t imagine anything could grow,” Jenny says. Many years later, when Jenny studied landscape design at Radcliffe College and bought a 50-acre New Hampshire parcel with Edward in 2004, she had the opportunity to integrate the wisdom from her city neighbors on a much larger scale.
Jenny and Edward bought the land for the view. Practicality struck later when they began addressing their 1770 “complete wreck” of a house that came with the acreage. They were planning to devote their full energies to patching up the house, enjoying the view, and growing a few vegetables immediately around the house’s foundation when a flock of sheep changed the game plan. Jenny’s mother decided she could no longer keep the line of Romney sheep she’d bred for decades. Adopting the flock meant clearing 12 acres of land to accommodate a sunny pasture. Once they opened up the land, Jenny’s vision for her food-laden landscape began to take shape, with sheep grazing in an adjacent fenced pasture.
With talents as varied as jazz vocals, fiber arts, and stonewall design, Jenny pulled from all those inspirations to augment her instincts as a landscape designer. She also accessed her formidable personal library. “I have about a thousand garden books—especially the kind with lots of pictures.” But much of what she learned is the result of experimenting with her land. On the positive side, the soil has superb drainage; on the adverse side, fertility is an issue. But Jenny amends with compost and occasionally layers unusable discarded wool to increase water retention. Building up the soil has given her land the necessary muscle to support the many tasks it’s asked to perform.
Related: How to Test Your Soil
Design a Layout
Early in the garden’s progression, Jenny installed a series of Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’ to serve as strong vertical sentinels, giving the garden height against the backdrop of the distant hills. She adopted plenty of other conifers as well as boxwood hedges, creating squares. Working hand in hand with the garden also informs her ideas. “I find that turning a corner forces you to stop and pivot—what you see comes as a surprise,” she says. In many cases, the surprises in Jenny’s garden are beefy, leafy vegetables growing in rows beside the flowers.
In Jenny’s garden, the designer indulges her love of strident colors and rich combinations. From a distance you see her collection of ‘Danish Flag’, ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’, ‘Lauren’s Grape’, and other poppies she loves. Look closer, and you notice the flowers are actually accenting the family’s food supply. Blooms work in tandem with garlic, leeks, onions, beans, peas, zucchini, potatoes, pumpkins, and other crops that Jenny and Edward harvest. And it’s not just vegetables; berries and fruits also are included, and herbs bask in stone-surrounded beds on the sunny terrace beside the house.
Related: Best Plants for Hedges
Perfect Plant Combinations
When Jenny and Edward first started the garden, organic produce was not readily available in their remote town. And even now, finding time to shop for food is a chore. They prefer to produce, harvest, and preserve their own organic ingredients. “I like knowing what we’re going to eat at the end of the day,” Jenny says. The garden is more than just a pretty face; it’s their sustenance. But in this case, bountiful is truly beautiful.
Although the garden might look like a delicious riot, it’s carefully configured. Vegetables have their own beds and rows that fulfill kitchen needs. Nearby, flowers perform and occasionally overstep their turf—with delightful results. Poppies are bedded below the espaliered fruit trees to prevent weeds from gaining a foothold. And even after their petals fall, the chalk gray poppy seed heads match the hue of the cabbage heads and collards.
Not just any flower is invited to the table. Jenny is partial to annuals such as red salvias, Nicotianas, Amaranthus, red orach, and double cosmos because they can thread throughout without bogarting space. For perennials, drumstick allium (Allium sphaerocephalon), Sanguisorba, Nepeta, Helenium, Actaea, and Rudbeckia are well-mannered, intertwining bedfellows without large footprints. And she leans toward certain combinations—such as cosmos with leeks and nasturtiums with cucumbers. Convenient accidents are encouraged. For example, the self-sown foxgloves (Digitalis ferruginea) form tall, wandlike flower stems to echo the exclamation points of Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spires’.
Related: Productive Vegetable Garden Tips
Mixing Trees and Flowers
An espaliered ‘Gravenstein’ apple spreads its limbs above ‘Danish Flag’ poppies (Papaver somniferum). At the bottom of the hill, Jenny planted an ocean of Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ accented by a selection of Echinacea purpurea with whisper pink petals.
Curving Garden Walkways
The curvaceous pathway leading from the house and into the garden is studded with sculpted shrubs and Jenny’s favorite perennials—including a phlox that she trimmed in June to achieve a rounded form. Although the upper path is surrounded by more ornamentals than vegetables, it eventually leads to a luscious berry garden encased in boxwood. The Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’ almost appear as exclamation points in the garden.
Bill Bailey, the dark ram, ensures that the flock will continue to have wool of all shades. The ewe Clara Schumann is mother to many Claras. Jenny shears her flock in November; their beautifully hued wool is in great demand by local fiber artists.
Provide a Path
Stone steps and paths help navigate the expansive garden. Down the steps from the upper terrace, Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ softens the wall while Digitalis ferruginea echoes the spires of the arborvitae. An irregular stone path with a stunning view runs beside the berry bushes, past Acer dissectum ‘Inaba-shidare’, and into the parterre garden.
Related: How to Install a Garden Walkway
Flower and Vegetable Garden Plan
- Dining terrace
- Salad greens and Brussels sprouts
- Granite herb squares
- Garage with cucumber trellises
- Corn and winter squash terrace
- Beech tree wind break
- Sheep pasture
- Shrub and perennial border
- Currants, potatoes, and tomatoes
- Sweet pea tuteurs
- Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’ lined walkway
- Espaliered fruit trees
- Lemongrass border
- Vegetable parterres