Vegetables

Create an Edible Plant Screen

At my parents’ home, I was lucky to grow up with a beautiful large backyard filled with flowers and vegetation. Despite all this space, the neighbors were never far away. Thanks to the famous and so popular cedar hedges, I have always had this feeling of intimacy. The abundance of plants creates this buffer effect that visually and audibly distances us from what surrounds us nearby.

When I left the family nest, I quickly realized that this large space was not to be taken for granted when you live in the city. I’ve had an apartment without a balcony, an apartment where I shared a balcony, even an apartment where the balcony was so small that I couldn’t put a chair on it! The notion of intimacy takes on a whole new meaning. Today, I am lucky enough to have a small yard. Still, I’m directly in the alley. Over the years, I have tried all sorts of strategies to create a little alcove of intimacy around me. Although a multitude of ornamental plants can fulfill this mission wonderfully, why not have edible plant structures? Let’s explore my good moves and less good moves to inspire you!

A very productive bean wall.
Photo : Les Urbainculteurs

Pole beans

Well, I know it’s not a big surprise, but why not? The pole bean is the ultimate privacy screen for small spaces. Unlike a tomato or a zucchini, the bean can be sown in narrow and shallow pots. A simple rectangular planter placed on the ground can do the trick. It can be sown very densely to create an abundant vegetative mass. Unlike the bush bean, the pole bean makes a series of flowerings, which extends the production over a long period. More beans for longer is great, right? Make sure the bean has a surface to hang on to ropes, bamboo, nets, fences: it climbs wherever the sun takes it. Remember to pay attention to watering if you sow in a small container. The smaller the pot, the faster it dries!

Cucumbers

I love Lebanese cucumbers, the production is so abundant! If you plant several, you can certainly share them with your neighbors! Climbing cucumbers won’t provide as dense a screen as beans might, but I like to see the big leaves dancing in the wind and occasionally letting in a ray of sunshine. Let’s say it gives a more diffuse but no less pleasant look.

Since cucumbers are meant to climb, I tend to sow them closer together than if I let them run on the ground. I sow them in 1-foot-wide by 8-inch-deep containers and they do just fine. I don’t know how high the cucumbers can climb, but at home, they easily reach the trees. The small tendrils conquer any element with a circumference small enough to cling to, it’s quite impressive. The only problem, the cucumber being a plant of the Cucurbitaceae family, it is possible that it will be infected by powdery mildew. This fungal disease can compromise the aesthetic appearance of the plants during the season.

Several plants in the Cucurbitaceae family generally climb very well on all kinds of structures
Photo : Les Urbainculteurs

Indeterminate Tomatoes

My favorite of the season! This year, I decided to put three indeterminate tomato plants where I usually make my bean wall. Who says indeterminate, says height to be defined (how high will they climb?). Indeterminate tomatoes will climb as long as they can unlike determinate tomatoes, which stop growing at a set height.

Tomatoes obviously take up more space, they were planted in a 6-foot-long geotextile pot with 3 compartments. It measures 16 inches wide and 16 inches deep (40cm x 40cm) to ensure good rooting of the plants. It is right in front of my terrace and I am lucky to have a high wooden structure, to which I can attach ropes to stake the plants. I completely let the plants go, without pruning, and I must say that the result is quite impressive! The number of branches has made staking quite complex, but the result is more than satisfactory. The plants have easily reached the top of the structure, which is 8 feet high, and the terrace can no longer be seen from the alley. I’m pretty proud! And what about the number of cherry tomatoes? A real success!

Indeterminate tomatoes in front of my terrace
Photo : Les Urbainculteurs

Other ideas

I have also experimented with the grape vine and find it to be absolutely beautiful. We are used to seeing it in rows and neatly pruned in the vineyards, but when left to unfold it can be impressive. I have been able to grow it in pots as well as in the ground. By selecting varieties adapted to our climate, they can have good resistance over time and adapt to fairly poor soil.

I also did some experiments with the hardy kiwi. It develops a large number of stems that twist around anything in its path. Having grown it in pots for years, I can say that it is very resistant, but it is in the ground that we can admire its full potential. A friend owns a two-story building. Believe me or not, the kiwis planted in front of her house now easily reach the second floor balcony! So I wouldn’t recommend it for small spaces. Both male and female plants must be planted to produce fruit. If this is your intention, be sure to ask for it at the garden center.

Kiwi wall.
Photo : Les Urbainculteurs

Ideas That Weren’t Worth It

My gardening attempts have not all been successful! A few years ago, I tried snap peas, thinking it would have the same effect as pole beans. I don’t know why, I can’t get them to take a good height. They stop growing at around 4 feet and stagnate. However, around me, people talk about heights and abundant productions. Maybe it’s just not for me. One thing is certain, after a few weeks of production, it tends to quickly dry out and be infected by powdery mildew, which considerably reduces its lifespan. If you try it, keep this element in mind.

Let’s finish with the cucamelon. When I started working at Urbainculteurs, there was a real craze for cucamelon. Like many I decided to try it and unfortunately my passion never developed. The cucamelon climbs quickly and almost without limit (it reached the top of my trees! I’m not even kidding!). It produces a bewildering number of small cucumbers, but falls far short of creating a dense plant wall. Its leaves are rather small and distanced and its stem is frail. Let’s say the look is very sparse! For me it was not a favorite, but give it a try at home, experimentation is one of the joys of gardening!

Snow peas on trellis
Credit : Les Urbainculteurs.

Marie-Andrée is the urban farm manager and a trainer at Urbainculteurs, where she has been working since 2015. She plans and supervises the production of Jardins du bassin Louise, an urban vegetable farm with a social and educational vocation. Outstanding at teaching, she also co-hosts the podcast Mâche-patate and is one of the main trainers of the Urbainculteurs online training course. Les Urbainculteurs is a non-profit organization, based in Quebec since 2009. Their mission: to develop and promote a productive, accessible and responsible urban agriculture for the benefit of organizations and individuals, in order to increase food security, improve our living environments and promote an ecological transition.

1 comment on “Create an Edible Plant Screen

  1. Christine Lemieux

    I think pole beans and scarlet runners are beautiful!

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