By Katie Stagliano
“Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas.” -- Elizabeth Murray
Every Katie’s Krops garden is full of robust tomatoes, peppers, tall stalks of okra, and leafy cabbage. All are grown to fill the shelves of food banks and dinner tables of families that are struggling to eat. But nestled among the rows, you’ll also find fragrant flowers, containers filled with perennials tucked in the garden corners, and lengthy vines with enormous gourds. With a mission to grow vegetables to feed the needy, why do we plant ornamentals? There are many reasons.
Pest control: For years, our flagship garden has produced thousands of pounds of fresh produce for families dealing with hunger. But they have not been the only recipients of the lush produce and plants in our gardens. Hungry deer have helped themselves to the beans, okra, sweet potatoes, and anything else that they found appealing. Unfortunately, a tall fence has always been out of our budget, so we’ve tried a wide variety of deer-control methods: human hair, sun tea (garlic water hanging in recycled milk jugs), and coyote urine (yes, my mom paid $80 for coyote pee). Nothing worked. The deer walked over the hair and ate the plants directly next to the coyote urine.
Last year we tried something new. We planted marigolds, and the results were amazing. They brought vibrant color to the garden and prevented nematodes from consuming plant roots. Surprisingly, the marigolds also seemed to prevent deer from eating our plants. While I know there are truly no deer-proof plants, the marigolds are apparently a last-choice snack for our four-legged foes. Marigolds are now a staple in our gardens.
Attracting pollinators: One of the very first things I recall learning from my master gardener is that we need to attract bees and butterflies to our gardens to pollinate plants. We would do so by adding butterfly bushes and fragrant flowers to our gardens. Sunflowers stood tall and proud at the head of each row. They towered above everything else in our garden, leading the bees into each and every row. Last year with the marigolds, mature butterfly bushes, and sunflowers, we had the most productive growing season ever with more than 3,000 pounds of produce harvested from just one Katie’s Krops garden.
Growing gifts: Running a not-for-profit can be challenging. We rely on donations to help keep our gardens and our young growers busy. For those supporters who go above and beyond, we love to say thank you in a very special way -- we grow our appreciation. This can take the form of a bouquet of beautiful flowers or even a birdhouse crafted from gourds we grew or soaps we made from herbs. I love that our gardens can produce a healthy solution to hunger as well as a beautiful and natural way to say thank you to those who support us.
Recycling: There are times when our well-used tools need to retire. Rather than taking them to a landfill, we recycle them. An old cracked wheelbarrow, for example, has become a planter that anchors the entrance to a garden. Each season it’s filled with new flowers and decorations. The worn-out old tires from the truck that has delivered many a harvest to families in need have now found a new home in the garden as planters for lantana.
I love the beauty that ornamentals add to our gardens. But the purpose they serve is even more important: they keep the deer and nematodes at bay, thank those who support us, and fill our gardens with important pollinators.
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