Scorching sun – decorative plants, veggies, fruits, herbs?

(Question)

The only growing area at the front of my house is 3 shallow concrete urns on interlock set against my house brick. It’s south facing, so in the summer it’s punishing. I’m willing to change containers if necessary. What would be good to grow? The raccoons and squirrels are aggressive, so I’d have to chickenwire anything that’s tasty and would prefer to keep the front looking less like a farm. The backyard is shaded by the house, a large oak and side evergreens and shrubs. There’s very little sun except a small swath of grass against our little deck. What can I grow here? I’m willing to chicken wire anything here. Thanks!!

(Answer)

Hello:

Thanks for your question.

Front:

If you want to grow vegetables in these urns, I would suggest: Thai basil (thriller), parsley (filler) and Tiny Tim or Tumbling Tom tomatoes (spiller). All types of basil love the heat; I think Thai basil is particularly attractive. Other heat-loving herbs are oregano, rosemary, tarragon and thyme. You may not be able to find these particular tomatoes but there are a number of tomatoes for containers now that tumble down rather than needing staking.

If flowers, I suggest these annuals: petunias, salvias, zinnias, marigolds, and geraniums. Once established, they tolerate dryness and they bloom all summer. You could use sweet potato vines for trailers, although many petunias trail. Try lambs ears for texture and a lovely silvery colour. The planters sound like they are too shallow to keep perennials alive over the winter.

There’s no need to have just vegetables at the front or just flowers. My experience with raccoons and squirrels tells me that they bother the front yard plantings much less than the backyard plantings. Squirrels can tend to uproot newly planted seedlings, so just check daily so you can replant before the roots dry out. I keep well watered as well – I find squirrels like digging in damp soil less than dry soil.

In the Back:

You mentioned that it will be mostly shady there, so the only vegetables that will do well are greens – lettuce, swiss chard, kale, arugula, spinach,  etc and with a little more sun, carrots, beets, radishes. All these vegetables need 2-4 hours of direct sun, so if it is permanently shady you will have to give up the idea of growing food. These herbs can tolerate some shade: mint (be careful, spreads), lemon balm, chives, cilantro, and tarragon. You could consider growing sun-loving vegetables in containers on your deck – tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans. They would need to be large containers because you would have to add structures for plants to climb or be supported by. These vegetables need 6+ hours of full sun to produce fruits. These vegetables might need chicken wire cages around them at first until they have grown to a certain size. I don’t find squirrels to be a problem once vegetables are securely rooted and a foot or so high. Raccoons do take the occasional tomato, but I don’t stress about it. All vegetables can be grown in containers if you desire.

Because you have garden space in the back, there are many shade plants to choose from. Many nurseries have plants arranged according to light requirements and you could go and look around and see what you like. There are many native plants that like the shade as well.

You mentioned that the only sun in the backyard falls on a strip of grass next to the deck. I don’t know if you are willing to dig up the grass and plant there. I’m not sure how wide it is but you could put some native plants there to attract pollinators and beneficial insects – native asters, bee balm, pale purple cone flower, swamp or common milkweed, Agastache or hyssop.

There are an infinite number of things you could plant. It is hard to make specific suggestions. I hope that my ideas have given you a start.

Here are a few links to give you some information on landscaping with native plants.

http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/what-we-do/resource-centre/101s/native_gardening_101.html

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/04/07/why-you-should-put-ontario-first-while-planting-your-garden.html