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Free Spirit Gardening has endless possibilities when you experiment each season to find the right mix


Italian dandelion with red midribs is a wonderful addition to dishes + a lovely plant mixed in pots and flower beds

If you want to see change, around you, then you have to be the first to step out of the box! I can remember when my oldest daughter was attending a preschool class the teacher came up to me and said, ” Your daughter is a free-spirit” in a negative tone! I made a mental note about this but ignored it since I wanted my daughter to get to know the other children and did not want my opinion of this negative woman to hinder that opportunity.The next week, I was sitting outside the classroom with another mother + overheard the teacher say,”Don’t mix the colors”….really? Well, two words stuck in my head, “Free Spirit” and “Don’t mix the Colors” that in my opinion were right up there with “don’t color outside the lines.” I have been a creative thinker all my life, so I pulled my daughter out of that class and never looked back. My oldest daughter survived the brief exposure to this “in the box their whole life” attitude. It was an experience, I never forgot and eventually inspired me to design a program (with a friend in graduate school ) for parents+ their children to attend. It was taught by one of us, for many years to educate parents, on  the importance of play and how young children learned best by mixing colors in life!

Radicchio-Red-Ribbed-DandelionIMG_5927A free-spirit  attitude has flowed over into my organic garden. Who wouda thunk it!


I am constantly experimenting each season and  my gardens are colored “outside the lines,” flowing over the sides where vegetables, herbs and flowers mingle together… Won’t it look messy?How does one make it look right?Simply put, grow the most beautiful edible plants you can find and combine them with the most attractive herbs and flowers. Problem solved.


If you cannot find what you want locally, grow them yourself from seed, which I do every season.  The options are endless, when you start searching for beautiful vegetables! If I find a beautiful vegetable, I want to grow, I trial it for a year and figure out which flowers and herbs look best  with it in the garden. If you practice “natural pest control” or “companion planting” that is something, you must consider, for example, I grow borage,marigolds, petunias, and calendula to help with natural pest control in my nightshades/tomato + pepper bed. My choices for these flowers are endless, This year I grew the herb borage ( takes care of tomato hornworms) and edged it with purple petunias, french marigolds, dwarf calendula, lemon gem signet marigolds, candytuft and whatever else I may want to trial. Since I have been mixing my beds, I have had very few if any pest problems in Palm Rae Potager.


I love to experiment, and the possibilities are endless, as to what you can grow together.This year, I planted two Heirloom Swiss Chard, started them from seed inside under lights and “mixed them” in the spring with corn salad( mache’),historical pansies, arugula,calendula, and marigolds. As the pansies were being challenged, by the heat, corn salad and arugula went to seed. Calendula Pacific Beauty Mix overran their space, which I allowed to take over the space left vacant by spring flowers.


Deep dark red leaves that become darker as the season becomes cooler….

I grew a hard to find,rare, Scottish Heirloom Swiss Chard MacGregor, which was much shorter than my Golden French Swiss Chard, and more tender. Visually, I like the contrast of these two Swiss Chard in the urban potager. I found MacGregor Swiss Chard made an excellent edging plant, but in pots it was hidden by taller plants. I started these chards at the same time,but the size difference was significant which surprised me since they were both a chard. I also found the Larger Chard ( Golden) leaves are better for individual dishes and, the shorter chard was a bit more tender that I use in dishes where a large center rib would be too much. Next year I plan on growing these two together and also using MacGregor for microgreens in the winter under lights. The MacGregor Swiss Chard is filled with anthocyanins that are good for your health. Just like planting a living medicine in your garden! Perfect size for indoor growing. Experiment 2014 a success, I have found two great Swiss Chards to use in our urban potager!


Succession planting is part of the “cycle’ of a potager. As one plant disappears or is no longer viable or usable in the kitchen, you seed, plant or allow more room for those that need to shine.As the summer was coming to a close, I decided to prepare for late fall + early winter harvesting. I removed all the flowers that would succumb to cool weather and planted beets in between the Swiss Chard.Golden French Swiss Chard is one of the few to handle the cold temperatures in our area. I have had my Golden Chard last until December if I cover it in the potager.I have found Golden Chard to be one of the few to return in my zone 5 garden the next year. I wonder if MacGregor Chard will behave like Golden since it becomes more “red” as the weather cools..will it return?


I have found the smaller MacGregor Swiss Chard leaves and ribs are perfect for dishes…very tender and tasty. You can use it in many dishes..experiment and enjoy

A vegetable plant is considered a keeper if it is “beautiful” and ” tastes great.” Part of the fun, tasting and learning to cook with these beautiful vegetables. Just getting started trying to figure out what you like is part of the fun of growing your own organic urban potager.The basics of “potager” design is to find beautiful ornamental vegetables, herbs and flowers to mix on your city lot. There is no ” right way” to achieve this for you can edge the garden bed with flowers, throw the flowers in with the vegetables, or use pots for the flowers near the potager bed..Today you see many people miniaturize the “formal” potager from days gone by,which is perfectly fine, but you do not have to do it that way! You can mix and match whatever you want and don’t be afraid to experiment….


Shiso, Britton reseeds every season in Palm Rae Potager where it has become a lovely surprise….

……the choices are endless and letting things just happen, serendipitously can be part of the fun. Be a Free Spirit…let it flow and watch the magic happen!

71 replies »

  1. How awful to hear “Don’t mix the colours!” I am a free spirit in the garden most of the time. If I want tidy rows one year, that is what I will do. If I want everything mixed up another season, that is what I will do. Much more fun that way.

  2. I am going to shop for “beautiful” vegetable seeds this winter Robbie. I LOVE that dark red Swiss Chard!! I just ribboned up some Swiss Chard over slices of tomato and purple basil for salad last night. We have a new oil & vinegar store in town and I bought some Balsamic Espresso vinegar – oh yum! I find Calendula accentuate all the greens beautifully – Calendula, Purple Perilla and Borage now grow like weeds in my Potager. I confess, I sometimes don’t want to harvest because it looks too pretty! Ha ha.

    • I am with you totally…I sometimes just sit and “look” in awe at what nature does with a tiny little seed. That MacGregor Swiss Chard is amazing! I find it tender, it does not get as large as the other chards. It could be my yard but I will observe next year and see if it develops the same. The critters keep nibbling on it this spring so I had to protect it which may of hindered it being short-lol…it is only about 12inches tall and the other chards are over 2 feet.

  3. Oh! Good for you pulling your kids from that confined box! And of course, you started something new to fuel those free spirited kids. I admire your spirit Robbie.

  4. Your posts are always so inspiring. I haven’ t heard of MacGregor chard but I grow Rainbow chard and that way I get different colours in one packet of seeds. They all taste the same, but they look wonderful growing. So colourful. I think that chard is the easiest, most reliable veg. It sits there until you are ready to use it. Eventually it goes to seed and you never need to buy it again. It comes up everywhere.

    • I know it is amazing! I found a cook book all about Swiss Chard..need some new ideas! The only one that comes back for me is the “Golden Heirloom French Chard”…The others I have to start from seed each season but I have found the golden growing where it was started the previous year. I have never grown Rainbow but it is beautiful. This MacGregor is really smaller and the ribs are tender and have a nice flavor which I prefer in certain dishes. I also love the red color! Mu favorite in flowers etc!!!I will see if it comes back next year:-)

  5. I hope that teacher changed careers, for the sake of the other children. Do you get caterpillars on your chard? Or do you companion plant something to keep them away?

    • funny thing is I do believe she quit + lets just say her child was a rebel:-) Not to say my kids were perfect- they did rebel…but hers REALLY rebelled and I felt sorry for her because she could not think outside the box:-(
      Yes, I have some holes at different stages throughout the summer. I really don’t use my swiss chard until later in the summer after lettuce is not available or for BLT’s in place of lettuce. I start cooking with it more in the late summer/early fall garden. The holes disappear once those cabbage worms turn to butteflies. I found when I pulled up some of my companion plants I did see more of those cabbage butterflies..I never found worms on them when I brought them inside. I did find a few REALLY tiny snails, but that was about it. NOw it is too cold for anything out there so it starts taking off and loving this early fall weather!
      I plant a lot of petunias they say they trap them and when I had more of my petunias there were no cabbage butterflies..I had to take some out to make room for fall crops…so plant those petunias near your brassicas and chard:-) I will again next year:-)

      • Petunias! Fun! I get the cabbage worms in the spring mostly. Chard and such are mostly winter crops here due to our hot summers. I’ll play around with petunias to see when to sow them successfully. The guides on the seed packets tend to be wrong for flowers in my area, so you’re forced to “play outside the box.”
        I love putting chard in soups and chopping it up in breakfast hashes. So versatile!

      • yum…I agree that sounds good! I agree the guides on seed packages are off and you have to figure it out by your area. I have made sooooo many mistakes but I learn:-)
        I start my chard inside under lights so they do get a bit eaten in the spring. In 2015, I am putting my Chard and Kales out later in May or early June, not late spring. They were getting eaten by all the critters late March/early April.I did plant more petunias so they had less holes this year. It is a learning process and we just have to figure it out sometimes.The bad thing is you make a mistke and can’t change it unil the next growing season!

  6. Wonderful post and photos again Robbie – your garden looks good enough to eat! Like Chloris, I grow rainbow chard but you’ve now inspired me to hunt out some heirloom seeds for next spring.

    • awww….it amazes me how beautiful nature is all the time. I have been trying to capture a monach for the past month…today as I was clearing the garden, one just landed 6 inches from my hand on a zinnia, as I was clearing the gardens…geez…I did not have my camera…as if he knew…lol.. I was thinking about how we are lucky to have the ability to capture beauty with our camera from nature.

      I have never grown Rainbow chard. I may have to do that one year. That MacGregor is so tender. I just can’t figure out why they are so short. The other chards get very large. It is growing a bit more now but still remainng shorter. the ribs and stems are so tender. They also get a deeper red as the days get cooler. It is from Scotland and an old heirloom. I have not found any informatioin on it any place except one seed company that sells it. Here is where I got it from-
      Just don’ t put it in a bed or planter with taller flowers ( above a foot). I put it in with taller plants and it disappeared! I had to transplant them. I will grow them out again next year and see if it is a bit larger if I don’t transplant it later…IT seems to spread outward and not grow such large leaves.
      Keep me posted how it works for you:-)

  7. Oh, hearing the negative comments of that teacher just had me cringing for the children she taught! I am so glad you were not a mother who listened with respect for a teacher and took things on board like some would’ve!!! Every child should be a Free Spirit and it’s easy to see how we grow to be so messed up in our thinking when it is all gradually stripped from our nature as we grow. I am glad you and your daughter have retained that 🙂 🙂 I did not to a large extent and struggled to find that within me but I know I am getting there! How grand it is just to be ourselves, no matter how much we “draw outside the lines”. I actually drew this saying in a pad last year “no matter how hard she kept on trying she could not manage to colour within the lines – so she drew new lines”.

    We have rainbow chard here and I love it but the ones that keep self seeding are the green so that is all we have had the past two years. They have such beautiful colours and make eating the rainbow easy 🙂 I used to do alot of companion planting but Roger has taken over the garden and does not. I have two things in mind from your posts – to encourage him to go vertical and companion plant this year! I suggest and plant seeds..that’s all one can do with some men 🙂 🙂 He loves it so much but does things very differently to me.

  8. I’m commenting now to applaud your stance as a mother and will go back to read the rest later. I was a teacher who wanted her students to experiment and discover and support each other whilst doing it and was often met with by parents who wanted their kids to colour inside the line and preferably let them [the parents] do it for them. After twenty years I was teaching the teachers how to do it and was exhausted. Thank heaven for free spirits – the world is a better place for you and your garden is a solace to those of us who may never walk in it! Isn’t that a miracle!! 🙂

    • yep…and we survived it as students + parents + teachers….now we need to spread the word-COLOR OUTSIDE THE LINES + MIX IT UP! lol…and you do it as an artist in mixed media-
      mixing colors and letting it all hang out:-) What beauty you create:-) It makes me think of square pegs and round holes..remember? lol

    • Pauline…look at how witty- Wendy is…. “I actually drew this saying in a pad last year “no matter how hard she kept on trying she could not manage to colour within the lines – so she drew new lines”. I LOVE it…isn’t that great…easy to say don’t worry about coloring outside the lines…but to actually make “new lines”….LOVE IT! You cyber buddies are so witty!

      • It’s a great wee saying isn’t it!
        I used this one for my daughters birthday card last year which I found on pinterest:
        ‘She tried blending in
        But it didn’t work for her
        The truth is
        She was born to sparkle’

      • Yes, it is….what a great thought….not blending, instead sparkling….yeah..that is what we should all do in life….boring to be just like everyone else!

  9. I am in love with this post! How it resonates with my own way of thinking :). Forget ordered structure and “in the box” and live…LIVE! Life is messy and twitchy and falls together serendipitously and you can’t ever count on anything going the way that you plan and the sooner that you learn to roll with the punches and go with the flow the better you life is going to be. Learning to change and adapt is the secret. I haven’t quite mastered it yet but am working on it. Your garden inspires me. I have so much to learn about edible plantings but I am more than willing to give it the old “college try” and step outside the box to get growing. I have shored up Sanctuary and I am going to seed her (because a Sanctuary HAS to be a “her” 😉 ) with all kinds of things. Mad mental things, just because I can! I want to try growing peanuts, to grow all kinds of amaranth, to let borage run amok and to inter-plant things under other things, go vertical, go horizontal, go sideways, go for BROKE! This year is my year of experimenting wildly with colour, flavour, actually “doing!” and your gorgeous garden and ethos inspire me to the max 🙂 I also learned that both you and Ms Pauline were educators and that explains a whole lot :).

    • You are too funny:-) “go vertical, go horizontal, go sideways, go for BROKE!” ….you are a stitch:-) and witty as hell-lol! I have met so many witty people over the cyber fence. You inspire me to cook. I am so anxious to see what you whip up from Miss Sanctuary:-) or is she married? I usually make my plants female-girl power!…well, back on subject…please come up with some new swiss chard recipes…I am running out..we should have a challenge…what can we cook with swiss chard. I found one book with Swiss Chard recipes…it was 18.00…a bit much for recipes…I really am anxious to try some new ones. I did try one with golden rasins + roasted nuts..yum!
      But then Wnedy added the comment about “making new lines”…that is so BRILLIANT! I have to think like that…lets color outside, step outside …but make NEW!!!! Much more creative:-)
      I read your post today and you have sealed the possums out! It looks like it will soon be a wonderland!
      As the snow flies here, you will be in the green!

    • and you are doing peanuts!!! now that is outside the box..I can hardly wait to hear all about it…my sweet potatoes came out but not as many as I would of liked;-(

      • I love sweet potatoes so by the law of murphy I won’t get any but will have a HUGE pile of okra (that I HATE but that has pretty flowers and will grow anywhere 😉 ). Peanuts are an experiment. If you can grow them in New Zealand (which I am assured you can…) I can grow them here!

      • I got a few , but it seemed like a lot of space for such a small crop in my containers….you have the space:-) If I had a field I would try and grow them there. The vines took over my entire porch,but only got a few potatoes out of a container…hmmmm…need to have a high yielding crop in my small space. I can get them organically grown locally so all good:-) Okra I tied one year but not on eof my favorites eihter…you are right, very pretty flowers!

      • I can’t grow sweet potatoes as everything would eat the leaves. My possum scoffed a purple one that I had planted out in Sanctuary prior to me sorting him out. You can eat sweet potato leaves as well apparently so it would be worth growing here but I would have to put them in Sanctuary to see anything at all. I have stopped growing sweetcorn as we don’t get good results here and I think it’s all about growing what is happy and giving up on things that just refuse to play ball. I wonder if peanuts play ball? 😉

      • Hope they do play ball:-)I read you could eat sweet potatoe leave vines…I just have not done it yet. Have you? I tried Egyptian spinach another blogger from Japan sent me, yum. It was weird to try a new plant that I have never eaten before. I made a soup from it and it was wonderful!

      • Egyptian spinach is supposed to be amazing. Is that what we call Molokhia? We have a lot of Lebanese people living in Australia and they love the stuff. It is grown on the mainland but I haven’t ever tried it. They say it is best in soup and they practically need it to survive it is that much of a way of life for them. Pretty much like me and potatoes and pumpkin 😉

      • lol..yes that is the same stuff. I got some from Lrong( Japan blogger) and he sent me seed from his garden. I stared at it most of the summer and pondered…what do I do with this stuff. It has a strange leaf with little spider tendrils( short+ brown)…not like our basil-lol. I did try it raw one day..waited to see if I died..naw..still alive-lol. It was tasty. I then asked him what to do and he told me…I sauted some with gralic, onions and made a soup-YUM!!!! I liked I am still looking at it and wondering…will it reseed, how do I save it..people dry it etc…
        I read it is even more nutritious than other greens we eat. I want to do a post on it soon need to do it…but you know..always something else to do…dug up the purple sweet potatoes…now I am not sure…may want to try them in a larger container…have to cure them and try them first to see if they have good flavor..but darn, they have me sold on just being purple and lovely plant running all over the yard!

      • At least you GOT purple sweet potatoes and untainted by possum lips at that :(. I am most interested in that spinach and might hit up our local sites to see if I can’t get hold of some seed. Cheers for reminding me of it. I remember seeing a television cooking program all about it and how nutritious and good for you it is. If it is yummy too, I am sold! 🙂

  10. I came back for my second read and got stuck on the swiss chard. I have a far back indelible trauma with the stuff we know as ‘silver beet’. It occurs to me that, whilst we are all talking about drawing outside the lines or drawing new lines – or having no bloody lines at all – I must re-name the old, feared and despised plant anew. Henceforth it shall be chard and I shall hunt down some rainbow chard – it did not exist back then, or if it did my parent did not use it – and grow that in my pot garden. I shall grow it with love and use it with care. I believe it is very good in green smoothies if you don’t have any kale and that is a good place for me to start. Fran can send me all her beloved [and stolen/pilfered/pinned] recipes for using chard and a new chapter shall begin in my kitchen 🙂 Another fabulous post from our potager guru xoxo

    • lol…you are too funny:-) In pots it is such a lovely plant:-) My parents are growing it outside on their driveway. You really don’t need much. Fran just sent me a bunch of recipes to try. I find the MacGregor, or smaller one easier to use in smaller dishes.It is tender and has a nice flavor. I cut up the larger golden and pink passion ( one I did not include) and threw it in a casserole which we have been eating the past few nights. YUM…it really is tasty and healthy,too. I bet you can grow it year round in your climate:-) I do believe it is the same plant ( silver beet). That rainbow is a pretty plant and you get ALL the different colors!
      Yeah, give it a try. I have a friend that I gave some to and she just would not even try to use it in a recipe. She is not a vegetable person. It really is healhty. I enjoy stir frying it,too:-) In a smoothy, interesting:-) As creative as you are, I have no doubt you will do something fun and yummy with your chard!
      My internet has been off and on for the past month…our neighbors are all having problems, too.Often, I am in the middle of working, reading a post, or commenting and it just shuts down. It is so grrrrr….the repaire man is coming saturday..this is so please forgive me if my response or message takes longer than usual..

  11. Robbie, I am embarrassed to admit I have never tasted (or grown) swiss chard. But your pictures are so gorgeous, and with all of your comments, I’m tempted to give it a go! I also loved your story of your daughter when she was young–I had one of those “free spirits” as in , when I asked her to do something when she was little and didn’t want to, she’d put her hands on her hips and stomp off and do it. When I thanked her afterward she’d say, “Well I didn’t want to, but I SORFED myself!” She is now the most successful, independent ,and beautiful spirit I know. Never stifle a free spirit!

    • awww, Mandy–they are so pretty to take pictures of!:-) We are all learning about new foods to grow closer to our door:-)I did not grow Swiss Chard a decade ago either. I never grew up eating it but now it is in our garden every spring! I start them from seed and if you want to use them for beautiful, landscape foliage…they fit the bill:-) They have rainbow colors, solid colors and smaller types. I prefer their heirloom Golden Swiss Chard + Red ones they leaves are not as bitter( what I have read,too) as the other Swiss Chards. IF you live in a warmer area , I bet you can harvest all year. They stay viable to below freezing if you cover, but too many below freezing days and the quality declines. My kale is the keeper of our long winters!
      I had a strong-willed + Free Spirit like you ( 3 of them!) and it has made them successful young adults—don’t stife a Free Spirit…shoot, I think we are Free Spirits,too..the apple does not fall far from the tree-lol!

      • I love growing things just for their beauty, Robbie. I am making a note about the swiss chard, and I will try eating some, too! (I’m not that fond of artichokes but I have always had a few plants growing just because I find the plant gorgeous (and I always find people who love eating them!)

  12. It all looks so beautiful and very appetising Robbie – how I would love to see your garden and taste your produce! I love the way that you seem to grow things together because they look beautiful – when planning my vegetables I am always worrying about ‘the rules of crop rotation’ – perhaps I should concentrate more on what just looks good. I also love the idea of interspersing flowers amongst the vegetables and have done a lot of that this season – it helps to fill in empty spaces and hopefully benefits the garden in general.

    • Hi Julie:-) I have been having trouble the past month with my internet…I am hoping I can post and respond to your comment. I was outside today harvesting purple sweet potatoes..hmmm…an experiment-maybe vertical, next year-lol. I do rotate every year but only have 3 sections ( or areas) that are sunny so limited:-) I am getting more vertical to free up space for more flower beds near/in/around the vegetables for companion planting which, with rotation helps keep it all healthy. Some people feel it does not work but I do!I found out this year petunias help with cabbage worms, you know those awful things that eat holes in our brassica crops:-( I practice succession planting so I took out some of my petunias and noticed a few more cabbage butterflies this fall but they are no longer icky worms! You have such a lovely place + It must look beautiful with all your flowers and gardens this time of year:-) I need to head over and visit:-) Your vases are always so lovely:-) I need to find out what you are doing with fall decorations! You inspire me always:-)

      • Thank you Robbie – I am intrigued about petunias and cabbage white fly – I have never heard that before but will certainly try next season. I love petunias and always grow them in pots – next year they will be decorating my brassica bed! It is lovely to know that you find inspiration on my blog – I am holding on to summer as much as I can for a week to two more, but fall decorating is certainly on my mind – my pumpkins look great this year and we ate the first sweetcorn yesterday – it was so delicious – nothing like the corn I can buy in the supermarket.

      • After I visit your blog I am inspired to go out and cut some flowers and make a vase:-) Silly me still thinks you should never cut a flower! Nuts, I know:-)

  13. Swiss chard is one of my favorites but the kids still look at it with suspicion 😉 I’m going to try the borage/tomato trick…thanks for the tip! Great post! Cheers, Ben

    • You know something interesting, I have been trying to figure out which of my companon plants is the “tomato hornworm” destroyer. Since I have been planting my tomato/night shades with common companions, for example, basil, marigolds, calendula, etc…+ borage. This year, I did an experiement. I only planted “borage” between the tomato plants and edged the bed with the others…not one tomato hornworm. I believe the “workhorse” for companion planting is borage. It seems to take care of a lot but I still slip the others near by.
      Don’t worry someday they won’t be suspicious:-)My kids are older now + beg me to make pesto but not my husband, he stays clear of it-lol:-)

    • are too kind Eliza. I thought ofyou today, when I saw pairs of monarchs on my ride by the river. Then I got home and 3 were in my yard! I got some photos finally of them up close. I had one pose for me. He stopped and let me get up close!I kept thinking, “Eliza would love to see this many monarchs! I have not seen this many in years! I’ll post about it next week:-) They are the true free spirits!

    • Thank you so much Cynthia:-) I will have a great week for it is perfect weather for outside + free spirit gardening! You have a wonderful week too!!!

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