“Look up. Look waaaayyy up!” was the famous line of the Friendly Giant as he opened his children’s show that aired on CBC from 1958-85.
It’s not bad advice for gardeners. After all, every square foot of space in your yard and on your balcony or terrace suddenly equals (more) money in the bank.
How to make the best use of your garden space? The obvious answer is to grow vines, which produce shade, and flower vertically. And if your vines also produce food, that makes you a real estate investment and foodie genius.
Our top eight picks of food producing vines:
1. Runner beans. OK, we hate eating them but you cannot deny their ability to cover vertical space fast. They produce an abundance of attractive red flowers that draw pollinators, including bumblebees. If you happen to like eating the long green bean, so much the better. For added interest, look for purple podded stringless beans, which sound a bit more tempting to us. Minimum six hours of sun.
2. Cucumbers. Not all cucumbers climb, but most do — the newer varieties clump and are hybridized for use in containers. Mark grows his English long cucumbers over an A-frame in this veggie garden, but you can train them up a trellis just as easily. The cucumber fruit hangs as you might imagine it in the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon: a crop fit for royalty — especially the more civilized, burpless varieties. Cucumbers require full sun.
3. Squash. Members of the cucumber family (or are cucumbers members of the squash family?). Sow the seeds for autumn squash now in a sunny, hot position. Give their roots lots of space, a square metre or so. Enrich the soil with plenty of compost and give them support using a trellis or series of string attached to a wall or fence. Be prepared to create a hammock for the heavy fruit when it matures, using thin fabric (a used bra works well), otherwise the squash may fall off the vine prematurely.
4. Gourds. Italian gourds are quite edible while ornamental gourds are, well, ornamental. Both climb up a wall, fence or trellis nicely and produce a dramatic display of hanging fruit later in the season. Grow from seed in a sunny position now.
5. Kiwi. We mentioned these a couple weeks ago as a novelty plant, but they are so easy and fast to grow that they make a great addition to both the fruit and ornamental garden. Be sure to plant both male and female specimens as they need cross-pollination to produce sweet fruit about the size of your thumb, from the knuckle up.
6. Hops. The flowers of hops are used to make a sleep-inducing tea or, of course, beer. Either way, they grow fast and twine up most anything vertical. A bit invasive, so keep their growth in check by pruning heavily or planting in a container. Young leaves of hops can be steamed as a veggie dish.
7. Tomatoes. Ever notice how we say “tomato vine,” but grow them on a bush? There are varieties that grow vertically very nicely. Look for indeterminate varieties. Mark’s favourites are Brandy Wine, Sweet One Million (cherry) and Yellow Pear, all growing in his garden. Tie them up securely as they become top heavy when they start to fruit in early August. Lots of sun and heat.
8. Peas. Garden peas need support to perform best so why not train them up a trellis wall, or fence rather than in the middle of your garden? They benefit from the air that circulates around them while off the ground and they are much easier to pick. Minimum six hours sun each day.
All fruiting vines benefit from the additional exposure to the sun and the wind moving through their foliage — and you benefit from the accessibility of fruit produced off the ground. Not to mention the most efficient use of your garden space: genius.