By Prairie-based, Professional Home Economist Getty Stewart

Dreaming of fresh, homegrown veggies but don’t think you have the space, know-how or time? Think again! Ditch the image of endless rows of veggies and have fun growing dinner themed gardens tailored to your time, space, and energy. Last year, after moving to a house with only a balcony, I used Rubbermaid tubs and a few pots to grow the tastiest salsa themed garden. It was such a fun, affordable and relaxing way to get growing in my new space. Choosing a theme reduces the overwhelm and lets you focus on a few plants at a time so you can learn and grow with your garden.

Whether you have a large garden for a soup theme or a small sunny corner on your balcony for herbs, there’s a theme for you. I’m excited to share these fun veggie garden themes along with my top tips for growing the best veggies and herbs. Which theme will you choose?

Garden Theme Ideas:

1. Pizza Paradise

Grow your own pizza! Plant a variety of large and small tomatoes, sweet and spicy peppers, oregano, and basil. For a little green on your pizza, like in this Ultimate Veggie Pizza recipe, add  arugula, spinach or kale to your theme garden.

2. Pasta Love

If you want to grow your own pasta sauce or your favourite pasta toppings like in this Tomato Mushroom Pasta Bowl, plant a variety of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini (needs a big container), and fragrant herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme.

3. Souper Garden Soups

If you have a big space for a variety of vegetables including root veggies, consider a soup-themed garden. Grow carrots, leeks, potatoes, and thyme for a Leek and Potato Soup. Grow tomatoes, garlic, onions and basil for a delicious Roasted Tomato Soup or Gazpacho. Or, grow as many veggies as you can to make this Minestrone Soup.

4. Seasoning Blends

For small spaces, a seasoning blend garden is ideal. Many herbs like basil, thyme, parsley, oregano, mint, rosemary, sage, lemon thyme, and chives grow very well in pots. To narrow your choices, find your favourite seasoning blend, pesto or finishing salt and pick what to plant accordingly.

5. Salad Sensations

Get an early harvest by growing mixed lettuce greens like arugula, kale, spinach, mesclun mix and your favourite lettuce varieties early in the spring. These greens do best before the summer heat hits and go well with garden peas, radishes and herbs like chives, dill, and parsley. 

6. Stir-Fry Symphony

Asian veggies like Baby Bok Choy, green beans, snap peas, peppers, and scallions will have you whipping up tasty stir-fries in no time! While these veggies need a little more space, you can grow peas and beans vertically on trellises.

7. Salsa Time

Spice up your life with a salsa garden bursting with tomatoes, colourful sweet peppers, onions, and a variety of hot peppers for a little kick. Check out these fresh salsa recipes for inspiration or this freezer salsa if you plan to grow a lot!

8. Tea Time

Indulge in your senses with pretty and aromatic herbs; they are perfect for creating your own tea blends. Explore the soothing flavours of chamomile, lemon verbena, giant hyssop, mint, lemon balm, lavender, lemongrass, and stevia for a natural sweetener. Many are pretty enough for flower gardens but some like mint and lemon balm are best kept in containers to prevent them from taking over. Use your tea herbs fresh or dried, on their own or in a blend, like Sleepy Time Tea made with chamomile, lavender, and mint.

Tips for gardening success

For the record, you don’t have to grow every ingredient in your dinner theme. Pick and choose vegetables and herbs that fit your space and skill level. You can easily add any missing ingredients with store bought or farmers’ market produce for a satisfying and rewarding feast.

When it comes to growing your chosen plants, follow the instructions on the seed packets and plant tags and consider the following six tips for gardening success.

1. Pick the perfect pot: Choose containers with drainage holes and that are large enough to support your plants’ mature size. The seed packet or plant tags often suggest a suitable pot size.  

    2. Provide plenty of light: Sunlight is non-negotiable. Most veggies and herbs need at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. A few plants like kale, lettuce, spinach, parsley, chives, oregano, thyme, and mint (can be invasive) will tolerate some shade.

    3. Choose the right mix: Herbs and veggies like good quality, well-draining potting mix with a little bit of compost mixed in. It’s worth getting the best soil you can afford.

      4. Water consistently: Water regularly but avoid overwatering. When the top inch of soil feels dry, it’s time to water. If you wish to feed your veggies, research what’s best for your chosen plants. It’s usually better to err on the side of under fertilizing than over fertilizing. 

        5. Watch for pests and diseases: Keep an eye out for common issues like unusual holes, tiny droppings, wilting, odd growth patterns or discoloration. The earlier you diagnose and manage problems the better.

          6. Prune & harvest regularly: Encourage ongoing plant growth and a bountiful harvest by pruning and harvesting regularly and always remove any dead leaves or branches.

            With a little planning and these handy tips, you can grow your favourite food, even on a tiny balcony. So grab your pots, get planting, and enjoy the delicious rewards of growing your own dinner!


            About the author

            Getty Stewart is a professional home economist and author of From Garden to Table: Everyday Cooking with Herbs. Find her tips and recipes for enjoying local, seasonal homemade food at www.gettystewart.com.

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