Beauty and Bounty: Ornamental Edibles

by Pam Roy, edited by Bruce Gaudette
March 29, 2010

Beyond rows.  Vegetables without borders.  Delicious and delightful.  These are terms that come to mind when I think about adding edibles to the ornamental beds in a garden.  All too often, vegetables are segregated in a dedicated edible area.  While this can certainly be a workable solution to where to plant them, there are many other creative ways to sneak a few tasty plants into the landscape.  Why not include some edibles here and there as focal points in the ornamental beds and enjoy the perfect marriage of good to eat and aesthetic appeal.

Two years ago I started replacing some of the ornamental shrubs in my garden that weren’t doing well with a variety of edibles. The first additions were a couple of blueberries…Vaccinium “Sunshine Blue.”  This small partially evergreen shrub bears an abundance of fabulously sweet blueberries.  With its spring flowers, and maroon winter foliage, this is a star performer in the garden for both appearance and production!  I added a couple more the next summer, taking a grower’s advice to plant them near another variety of blueberry for better pollination.

Rhubarb, with its huge leaves is another edible that makes a major statement in a garden bed.  The sheer scale of the leaves is impossible to ignore and they make a great contrast next to a finer textured plant.  Give rhubarb plenty of room to grow and enjoy the fruit in sauces, pies, and salads.

Another bold, architectural plant is artichoke.  The long, narrow serrated leaves add an element of blue gray color.  They offer a vertical accent, reaching heights of four feet or more.  Last year’s warm summer gave the plant an opportunity to actually produce artichokes, but this doesn’t reliably occur in our climate.  The foliage alone is usually enough of a payoff.

For some bright red color in the garden, try scarlet runner beans.  This old favorite quickly climbs a trellis and shows off it’s striking flowers that attract hummingbirds.  You can also let them wind their way up a sunflower plant or an obelisk.  Another bean, Royal Burgundy adds a spot of deep purple to the garden with it’s unusual purple beans.

Colorful produce such as Rainbow Swiss Chard and Winter Red Kale can be tucked into the beds here and there as tasty accents.  Are you bored with boxwood hedges?  Line a bed with a low hedge of red leaf lettuce such as Red Sails, or a crisp butterhead lettuce like Speckles.  chives with their cheerful summer flowers can be used as an accent or a low border.

Sprinkle in a few plants with edible flowers just for fun.  Nasturtiums have edible flowers and make a fine topping to a summer salad.  In addition, the nectar of nasturtiums offer food to hummingbirds and bees.  Important Note:  Before consuming any flowers from sources other than your garden, positively identify them and be sure they came from organic growers.  And likewise, be sure that you are not using any systemic insecticides around your edibles.  A common example of this is systemic rose food which is both fertilizer and insecticide in one container.

Think outside the box this spring.  Get creative with your edibles to enjoy a bounty of beauty in the garden…and on your plate!!

Bruce’s Note:  It is my privilege to be “first in line” for Pam’s great articles as the company’s editor in chief.  I get to quietly slip in a few things here and there periodically…and sometimes a whole paragraph!

Just yesterday I was rearranging some containers at my home and doing some garden bed spring cleaning.  Lo and behold, there was a nice sized red loose-leaf lettuce up and growing from seed off a plant I let bloom last year!  Lettuce loves cool weather, so get that salad going now (peas too by the way).  Also, lettuce grows oh-so-cleanly (just ask Robin) in planting pots as opposed to on the ground.  Visit Territorial Seed Company’s website for a gazillion choices of pretty lettuce!

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