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Senior gardener Adam Cressman, who is responsible for planning and overseeing the Longwood Gardens vegetable garden, has some notable numbers to share. Longwood Gardens’ vegetable garden encompasses 18,000 square feet, grows 49 different edible crops, and yields over 3,000 lbs of produce each season that is used for cooking in the Terrace Restaurant.
Although the bulk of the veggies are harvested from late July through the end of September, Cressman says that cool season crops like cabbage, peas, potatoes, spinach, garlic, lettuce, kale, and onions have already been planted—and we can expect our first harvest of leaf lettuce around Memorial Day.
“Longwood Gardens is such an inspiring place with out-of-this-world horticulture displays. This level of excellence makes me strive to plant and create not only a functional, but beautiful vegetable garden too,” says Cressman who has worked in the vegetable garden for 5 years.
Cressman is able to achieve this balance of functionality and beauty by arranging the crops in a particular design. “I consider each crop’s characteristics like height, texture, and color. I try to arrange plants so that the garden is balanced and looks good throughout the season. Additionally, annual flowers are added to bring some color and biodiversity,” says Cressman.
Cressman says the next wave of crops, which are called warm season crops, will be planted within the coming weeks. These crops include: tomatoes, corn, peppers, beans, eggplants, squash, and many herbs.
“Like our cool season crops, many of these are grown as transplants from our greenhouse, but some are directly sown in the garden,” says Cressman.
The Vegetable Garden lifecycle
Even though we reap most of the rewards of the vegetable garden in the late summer and early fall, this garden is a year-round job. “Every fall season a cover crop is sown to help stabilize the soil throughout the winter,” says Cressman.
The cover crop decomposes, increasing soil health for the coming growing season.
Cressman says as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring, compost is added and soil is prepared for planting. The Longwood Gardens vegetable garden is arranged in raised beds which provide a strong planting bed that is well drained.
“Most of our beds are rototilled, however, some areas only require hand forking to loosen the soil prior to planting,” says Cressman.
Unique crops: blue potatoes, Italian beets, edible flowers
Most crops in the Longwood Gardens vegetable garden are selected for their outstanding flavor, nutrition, and reliability to be grown in Southeast PA. Cressman says he grows a lot of heirloom varieties but also some modern hybrids.
“Three of my most interesting crops that always raise intrigue are blue potatoes (the variety is ‘All Blue’), a unique beat called ‘Chioggia’, and a beautiful edible flower called Nasturtiums,” says Cressman.
The blue potatoes have a blue skin and, when they are cut open they reveal a vibrant purplish-bluish flesh.
Cressman says these blue potatoes are a real crowd pleaser, “These are best roasted but if you really want to impress your company, mash them for the most unusual blue bowl of potatoes you’ve ever seen.”
On the other hand, the Italian ‘Chioggia’ beets are an Italian heirloom named for a town outside of Venice.
“This beet is becoming very popular for its superior flavor, but even more so for its alternating concentric rings of white and red flesh which are revealed when cut open,” says Cressman.
Additionally, Nasturtiums are as beautiful as they are edible. “These flowers are easy to grow and can dress up any salad to add a light peppery taste,” says Cressman.
Keeping our vegetables in order
Cressman says one of the most frequently asked questions is how Longwood Gardens gets all of the different vegetable crops to be successful in the same gardening space.
“There is no real secret here—they key is to do some research about the crops you want to grow, and to understand the cultural requirements of each particular crop. You have to make sure that you’re planting each vegetable at the right time, provide the right spacing, and care for your garden properly,” says Cressman who plans out the vegetable garden and orders seeds in the winter.
According to Cressman, planning is key. “A good plan provides a roadmap for the growing season on the succession of crops and allows me to ensure that they are planted and spaced for success,” he says.
About some of the challenges our gardeners face in the vegetable garden Cressman says, “You can never predict what exact obstacles we’ll encounter but over the years our biggest ones have been the weather and pests.”
As we move into summer, be sure to make a date with Longwood Gardens' Cafe to enjoy some of our fresh vegetables that will be featured on the menu.
Before all of Longwood Gardens’ tulips bloom in patches of color in the Idea Garden, our gardeners make it feel like spring is in full swing by potting up large and small containers! And if you look closely at Longwood’s spring containers this season, it’s not just pansies, daffodils, and hyacinths that are sprouting up—but veggies, too.
“Mixing early season vegetables with traditional spring flowers is a gardening trend I am excited to showcase in our containers at Longwood Gardens. Veggies add great texture and different colors which can make your containers seem more sophisticated and unique,” says gardener Susan Cartwright.
Cartwright, who designs Longwood Gardens’ containers in the Idea Garden says container gardens are great for adding color and interest to small spaces and offers the flexibility of rearranging plants to suit the season.
“You can build a relatively simple and inexpensive theme garden around a color, texture, or an idea—and the best part is you can move this garden around your yard, porch, or deck,” says Cartwright.
Cartwright says creating these mixed fruit and vegetable pots are just as easy as creating traditional spring containers.
In the photo above, Cartwright combined fennel, ornamental onion, nemesia hybrid, and red giant mustard greens, but this is only one idea! Follow the steps below and use your imagination to get started on your own mixed floral and veggie container garden:
Choosing your plants and vegetables: For the months of April and May Cartwright recommends using bulbs, pansies, snapdragons, nemesia, or early-blooming perennials such as pulmonaria, hellebores and brunnera. The spring vegetables that pair nicely with these choices are: lettuce, cabbage, snapdragons, mustard greens, parsley, ornamental onions, and nemesia.
Choosing how many plants to include in your container: Cartwright says the number of plants per pot depends on the size of the pot, but recommends using an odd number of plants because it’s more pleasing to the eye. “Don’t fret if your container looks sparse after you first plant it – it’s more important to leave enough space between plants for growth,” says Cartwright.
Choosing your potting soil: Cartwright says if you choose a quality potting mix, you will not need to add anything to the mix since the plants will not be in the container for a very long time. “You’ll need to add a slow release fertilizer if you plan on using that same container and potting mix all summer long.”
Planting and caring for your container: Once you have your flower and veggie choices dig a small hole so that they are planted just at the level of the potting soil, and lightly press your hands around the area you planted to ensure that the root balls are completly covered. “Depending on the weather, spring containers may only need to be watered once or twice a week, unless the weather is very warm. Always check on the container every few days and water thoroughly when dry,” says Cartwright.
Eating your results: “The best part about using veggies in a container garden is that you can harvest your results like you would in a regular garden,” says Cartwright.
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