I don’t know if it’s just me, but as soon as the holidays have passed my mind turns to gardening. Too soon? Not in my opinion. Spring will be on us quicker than a tick on a rainy day, and it’s best we be prepared.
It could be you’re hesitant to plant a garden because you’re worried about would-be poachers and/or vandals. Maybe you’re afraid that a garden will draw unwanted attention from wandering marauders or neighborhood children who may decide to commandeer your harvest or stomp on your tomatoes. Fear not! The solution to this disconcerting dilemma is to plant a hidden garden, or even several.
Planting a hidden garden may sound challenging or impractical, but it’s easier than you might think. In fact, it takes very little planning. Your environment will tell you what to do, or more accurately, the weeds will tell you. Most gardeners think of weeds as their enemies, but they can be our friends as well as our foes. It’s really up to you which one you want them to be. I had a field full of lambs’ quarters this past summer. Instead of pulling them, I let them grow because my chickens think they’re salad. As these weeds grew taller, I thought, hmmm, it’s a nice place to hide a garden. I started by planting low vegetables that could be easily hidden by the lambs quarters, such as squash. As the lambs quarters grew, I realized I could plant taller vegetables, such as peppers and tomatoes without their being detected. As I pulled out the lambs’ quarters to feed to my chickens, I planted tomato plants in their place. Cool. Who would have thought that weeds could be so useful? Just remember trellises and tomato cages cannot be used in a hidden garden. That would defeat the whole purpose of trying to hide it. Obviously, no scarecrows are allowed no matter how scary. Pretty little picket fences aren’t a good idea either. Barbed wire is better. Not only is it less obvious, but it can be a bugger to try and wiggle through.
I did stake a few of my tomato plants with wooden stakes, but most I just let vine out over the ground. Some of them actually climbed the lambs’ quarters! Soon plantain started growing amongst the tomatoes, which the tomatoes didn’t seem to mind at all. Who would have thought it? Of course, the plantain enjoyed some of the nourishment of the fertilizer that I fed to my tomato plants, but that was okay with me so long as the plantain did its job of helping to hide my tomato plants. Both plants grew healthy and robust. It was a true symbiotic relationship.
Queen Anne’s lace pops up like dandelions all over my property. Come to think of it, dandelions pop up too. No problem. Both are pretty to look at, attract bees, and also make the landscape look wild and abandoned, even though it secretly isn’t. On the surface (and from a distance) there appears to be nothing edible in my field. A field full of lamb’s quarters, plantain, dandelions, and Queen Anne’s lace doesn’t exactly summon up thoughts of dinner, unless you’re a cow or a vegan. Let’s not forget the goldenrod, which grows thick and tall in the places I want it (and sometimes don’t).
That’s my point. A hidden garden blends in with its natural environment. This means straight tidy rows are a no-no. Plants should zigzag and meander and basically grow as they would if left to their own devises, which in a way they are. A passerby should be able to look right at your garden and not see it. Matching leaf shape and color can help with this, such as with the combination of lamb’s quarters and tomato plants. The two look somewhat similar. Anything that causes confusion is a plus.
But my hidden garden isn’t just a jumble of weeds and brambles; that would be too easy, not to mention counter productive. There are paths snaking their way throughout my field and gardens, each connecting one to another, allowing me access to my vegetables when I need them and when I just feel like taking a stroll through the weeds.
A favorite vegetable of mine to grow is butternut squash. I planted some in the corner of my field this past summer. I was a little disappointed, at first, when I went to harvest them. I couldn’t find a single one. Then I walked around and looked a little harder and sure enough, I found one. Then I found another and another and another. I even tripped over a few. Some were even hanging from the lambs’ quarters. Who would think that something as big and bulbous as a butternut squash could be hidden? But I did it. I hid them so well even I couldn’t find them.
Another good vegetable for hiding in plain sight is the cucumber. Because of their green coloring, cucumbers can easily hide amongst the weeds. I had cucumbers growing last year that I didn’t even know about until they had reached almost a foot long. I knew I had planted some, but I sure could not find them.
Aside from being dependent on weeds to hide your garden, you can plant bushes or tall plants, such as Jerusalem artichokes, around your vegetables. Not everyone knows what a Jerusalem artichoke is and may think you’re just growing pretty flowers. These can not only help hide your produce; they are your produce.
Speaking of flowers, a flower garden can be a sneaky place to hide vegetable plants. Hungry humans are usually not interested in sampling delicate flowers, even edible ones. Edible flowers, by the way, include day lilies, hostas, and nasturtiums. A poacher could starve to death before figuring that out. Face it; hungry foragers aren’t going to be looking for dandelions. They’re going to want something more substantial, like squash and potatoes. These, however, are vegetables that can be easily hidden.
Since they grow below ground, carrots can easily be hidden from sight. It’s as if they were designed to be hidden from us. Speaking of which, don’t even try and find my potatoes. After the tops die off, only I know where the bodies are buried. If you like sweet potatoes, you’ll probably like their attractive vine—another edible that can go undetected. A poacher may never know what lies beneath.
An herb garden can also be a stealthy way to hide edibles. Not everyone is familiar with herbs that don’t come out of a spice bottle. An herb garden is a good place to hide other greens as well. Arugula produces a delicate flower top that can look quite innocent and unappealing.
Let’s talk about peas and beans. Because they produce pretty blossoms, peas can be an interesting vegetable to grow in your flower garden. Even if your peas somehow get discovered by wandering marauders or neighborhood children, you can still eat the leaves in a salad. Ha, ha. Nice try kids. Green beans are not only one of the easiest vegetables to grow but also one of the easiest to hide. Because of their deep green color, the leaves and beans have the ability to blend in nicely with rich summer landscapes. And, as an added bonus, the triple-leafed plant resembles poison ivy. Yes!
A permaculture garden can be a useful addition to a hidden garden. A permaculture garden of fruit and nut trees can blend in seamlessly with a wooded environment, so long as you remember to take off the tags.
For obvious reasons, fruit trees should be planted well away from the road where questing eyes could spot them. I planted some next to the woods behind my house. The trees innocently look like part of the forest. My shed also helps conceal them. Barns and sheds make excellent visual barriers. (I suppose that goes without saying.)
I also plant what I call a “decoy” garden. This is a garden that is intended to be discovered. Corn is hard to hide, so I plant it in my decoy garden closer to the road and well away from my more abundant plots. Sneaky, huh? I don’t worry too much about corn rustlers, because I also plant another bed of corn near the woods just in case my decoy garden gets invaded. So far, it hasn’t happened, but I’m ready.
Planting multiple beds in different places decreases the chances of a poacher (or deer) finding all of your vegetables. Don’t forget, most people are used to seeing one garden on someone’s property, rather than several.
If you’re wondering how I remember where I planted all of these vegetables, it’s simple. I draw a sketch, or map, of each garden plot telling me where it’s planted and what is planted there. However, I have to admit that sometimes I’m surprised by what I find and also surprised that I find it!
I could easily have called this article Companion Planting for the Collapse or Camouflage for Your Cauliflower or maybe even Stealthily Sowing Your Squash or Arugula for the Apocalypse. I’ll stop now. Titles aren’t important unless you’re royalty, and even then it’s doubtful anyone cares. So if you’re not planting a garden because you’re afraid someone might find it, you no longer have that excuse. Go ahead and experiment next growing season. Try switching things up. Plant carrots in a flower pot or tomatoes in a trash can. Start small and stealthy, and see what develops. You’ll be surprised by the different ideas you come up with for hiding your prized vegetable plants. You may even be able to find them afterwards.