When most of us sit down to plan our ornamental garden, the first plants we think of are the flowering ones. We could think a little harder. There are all sorts of beautiful vegetable plants available that look great in an ornamental garden. Better yet, you can admire their beauty, and then admire their taste while stretching your food budget. Here are some ideas to make your garden do double duty.
Winter and early spring gardening in the South means greens: lettuces, chard, spinach, kale, frilly-edged and colorful mustards - even beets have ornamental and delicious leaves. The nicest thing about using greens as ornamentals is that you can cut the bottom leaves for salads and still maintain a colorful garden. If you live in Hardiness Zones 7-8b, you can grow your greens in January and February.
Begin your edible landscape design with an appealing border. For an edible edge of shimmering jewels choose from low-growing leaf lettuces like red salad bowl, lollo rosso and emerald gem. Triple-curled parsley planted in a shady garden makes a bold statement. Besides feeding you, it becomes popular with swallowtail butterfly caterpillars later in the year.
The middle of an ornamental vegetable garden is a great place to have fun with color and texture. For a touch of the unusual, add a few purple broccoli plants or a mix of cauliflower plants in shades of orange, lime, green, and purple. Include edible flowers like pansies, calendula, and nasturtium. You can even let arugula plants go to blossom, then add their spicy flowers to salads.
All garden designs benefit from vertical interest and the edible landscape is no exception. As a centerpiece or in the back of the border, try grouping several giant Japanese red mustard plants. Not only do these plants have deep burgundy leaves that reach 2 ½ feet tall, they have a snappy taste that will brighten salads. Other greens to color coordinate in the garden include ox blood beets with deep burgundy leaves and chard varieties in a rainbow of stem colors ranging from white to flamingo pink to scarlet. To add an interesting texture and a dusty blue color look for the heirloom kale lacinato.
Photo of giant Japanese red mustard courtesy of Park Seed Company: www.parkseed.com
Vegetables and most herbs need lots of sunlight to produce their best. Choose a well-drained site with at least six hours of sunlight. To make sure your soil is right for your new plants, it's a good idea to do a soil test. It's always a good idea to add organic matter to your soil in the form of composted manure, mushroom compost or material from your own composter. Miracle-Gro® Organic Choice® Garden Soil works, too. In new gardens, work it in with a shovel; in an existing bed with established plants, use a trowel. Break up the soil deeply to encourage roots to reach down for water and nutrients.