Plotting the Perennials: Grapes and Friends

After solidifying our plans for the berry beds yesterday, we moved on to the next easiest step: choosing the grapes.

We have known for some time that we wanted grapes to run along the back of the garden to make a sort of natural, visual fence between the garden beds and the lawn beyond. We also plan to put in an arbor at the end of the path that will form a doorway by which to enter the lawn. You'll have to use your imagination to envision a line of grapes in the last horizontal beds and an arbor over the path where it ends. You'll also have to imagine grass, since this is a pretty old photo:


I'm so used to imagining this that it seems like it's kind of already there, but you may not be able to see it just yet. I guess that's ok. If you have a good imagination, you might even picture mature grapevines going up an over a rounded arbor that covers some benches on either side of the center path's doorway. Something like we saw over the summer in Philadelphia somewhere between Independence Hall and City Tavern, sort of like this … 


… except that the benches would be built in and have a flip-up lid for storage, and the front half by the lawn would be open, with just support posts instead of crosspieces supporting grapes, so you could see the lawn and easily keep track of a croquet game while resting in the shade. This is admittedly grandiose, and would take years and years to fill in, so we're not really planning on building this any time soon. Or at all. The doorway arbor should be fine for now, and we won't really even need that until next summer anyway.

After giving it some thought, we decided that we would grow varieties of grapes that we can actually eat — we just can't see ourselves as wine-makers for anything more than a lark, so growing inedible grapes seemed a waste of planting space. We chose to plant two each of seedless Concord (a no-brainer, since we live in Massachusetts), seedless Himrod, seedless Reliance, and Catawba. These varieties will stretch out our harvesting over a few months, and all are good table grapes (especially the seedless ones!). Catawba could be used for wine if we ever give that a try, and Concord and Reliance are also supposed to be good for jelly. Again, we are going with Miller Nurseries because we have had great luck with them in the past, and their plants are geared towards northern growers who need hardy stock.

The grapes will take up one half (lengthwise) of the beds that run along the back of the garden, which leaves a depth of two feet left to fill on the front side (the non-lawn side) of those beds. Our original plan was to grow strawberries there, since both fruits are perennial and would remain undisturbed. Upon further thought, though, these two fruits have very different needs: grapes take little fertilizer and water, while strawberries require just the opposite. We did a little internet searching for companion plants for grapes, and that turned up suggestions of hyssop, chives, garlic, and basil. 

The basic idea is that many herbs can repel insects, but using herbs as companions for grapes also makes sense because so many of them require little care once they are established. That means that they should get along in less fertile and drier soil, just like the grapes. 

The drawback to moving our herbs to the very back of the garden is that they are just about as far as possible from the kitchen. In our original plan, the herb garden was in the very first horizontal line of beds, right outside the kitchen door. In fact, we have already planted several of them in what we thought would be their permanent home:


In the end, though, we decided that we actually like going outside to walk around the garden and pick things as needed for cooking, so a slightly farther walk to the herbs won't be so terrible. In very bad weather, we can always use them dried. To this end, we have decided to plant two of each of the culinary ones, radiating out from the center path in a mirror image. On the farthest ends will be the lesser-used, medicinal herbs that we are growing experimentally. The plan looks like this:


This is the far left-hand quadrant, as you look down the path towards the lawn in the back. If you click on the photo you can see a larger version, but the two-foot squares of herbs in from of the grapes are, from left to right: lovage, lemon balm, pennyroyal, horseradish, mint, chives, marjoram, tarragon, sage, winter savory, thyme, rosemary, and oregano.


And this is the right-hand side of the path. In front of the grapes are, from left to right: oregano, rosemary, thyme, savory, sage, tarragon, marjoram, chives, mint, horseradish, horehound, feverfew, and wormwood. There are other items penciled in the center C's, but we'll get to the annual plantings in another post.

Anyway, some of the thinking about the mirror-image planting (beside the obvious bonus of pleasing symmetry) is that we can pick fresh from one side and take less frequent but more massive cuttings for drying from the other, and we can alternate years for which side gets what treatment. Another experiment in the making!

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