Arts, Dining & Entertainment, Food matters

Growing a themed garden 

By Andrea Knepper, extension master gardener intern, University of Vermont

Have you been bitten by the gardening bug but aren’t sure where to start? Picking a theme such as a salad bar garden or salsa garden can help narrow down choices and focus your planning. Or how about growing a pizza garden with all your favorite ingredients and toppings?

Choosing a theme can minimize frustration when visiting the garden center and being overwhelmed by all the beautiful, interesting choices for vegetables and herbs. 

Before you start thinking about plants, decide where you’re going to put your garden bed. Try to find a location that receives full sun.

This means the site gets at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Keep in mind that the hours of direct sunlight can change over the course of the growing season. 

Raised beds are a great choice for beginning gardeners. One or two 4-foot square beds is a nice size to get started. Containers are another great option.

A five-gallon bucket is a great size for a tomato plant, for example. You can use smaller containers for other plants or combine some smaller plants in a large container. Grow bags are another inexpensive choice. 

Know the first and last frost dates for your area and plan accordingly. You can search the National Gardening Association’s website ( Or check out the websites of garden and seed companies. Many have online calculators where you can pop in your zip code to get the average date of the first and last frost in your area.

Next, make a list of things you like. Don’t limit yourself to thinking just about gardens and plants. Include everything from colors to activities to food and drink.

Do you love to make pizza with your family? Let’s go through the planning process for this themed garden. The same process can be applied for other themed gardens.

Brainstorm ingredients you might need for your pizza. Think of everything from sauce to toppings to garnishes. Your list may be extensive and include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, spinach and basil, for example.

Narrow down your ideas by researching space and sunlight requirements and days to maturity to make your selections. Or take your list to your local garden center for help choosing suitable varieties. 

You also should check out the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener gardening resources website at This site also has many informational articles for novice and veteran gardeners, gardeners, including tips for growing plants and troubleshooting.

Once you’ve selected and purchased your plants, keep any information that comes with the plant. Stick the plastic tag in the ground next to the plant, write the information in a notebook or make your own tag noting the variety name.

Plant your seeds or starts carefully, ensuring they have enough space. Make sure larger plants won’t shade smaller plants later in the season. The little seedlings you plant now will grow tremendously over time.

Water your garden regularly and keep the weeds to a minimum. Consider using an organic fertilizer or adding compost during the growing season. Check your plant tags for any additional care your plant might need.

Soon enough, you’ll have tomatoes for sauce, basil for pesto and several pizza topping options that you grew yourself!

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