Ornamental Edibles

With springtime upon us, the urge for many to grow a bumper crop of delicious, nutritious vegetables is strong. However, urban yards are often small — usually meaning too small to support substantial veggie patches.

Or are they?

Not having a lot of land doesn’t necessarily mean lean times for gardeners wanting to raise home-grown edibles. It is just a matter of making the most of what you have through interplanting. This type of nifty gardening involves planting veggies in flower gardens and perennial beds to merrily mix it up visually with ornamentals.

Some vegetables are, by botanical eye-candy standards, rather attractive. Okra is a good example. It actually hails from the Hibiscus family, a fact given away by its cupped, ornate flowers. In addition, there are attractive cultivars such as ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Red Velvet’ with pods and stems dipped heavily in a handsome crimson.

Bell and hot peppers can also provide visual pop with their long-lasting fruits. Interesting bell pepper selections range from the dusky purple ‘Merlot’ to the bright red ‘Karma’, while hot pepper show-offs include multicolored ‘Tabasco’, burning red ‘Thai Hot’, and high-octane orange ‘Habanero’.

Leaf lettuce becomes more than a meal when red-tinted varieties like ‘Ruby’ and ‘Red Sails’ are massed as landscape border plantings. Ditto for Swiss chard, especially eye-catching cultivars such as the multicolored ‘Bright Lights’ and the golden ‘El Dorado’.

Herbs can also be ornamental helpers in the landscape. Purple basil, especially the sassy cultivar ‘Purple Ruffles’, can poke desirable, dark holes in a summer border awash in green, green, green. In addition, the pink blossoms of common chives and white blooms of garlic chives are being used more and more by sharp gardeners as flower bed fillers. And the bushy, deep green foliage of curly parsley makes for a nice border edging.

Many vegetables and herbs can, indeed, beautifully blend with ornamentals in the landscape, but keep in mind that, if you must use pesticides, check first to see if such chemicals are safe to spray on edible plants.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener magazine. Want to ask L.A. a question about your garden? Contact him by email at lajackson1@gmail.com.

Left: Burgundy’ okra can be an eye-catching show-stopper in any landscape.
Center: Garlic chives holding their own visually with purple barberry and a variegated yucca. Right: Hydrangea.

To Do in the Garden


  • Want more asters, bleeding hearts, astilbes, ajuga, oxalis, coral bells, phlox, hostas, liriope, daylilies, shasta daisies and other similar perennials? If they are beginning to become crowded in your garden, now is the time to divide and transplant these pretties.
  • How about more mint, creeping thyme, tarragon and chives? These herbal helpers can be divided at this time, too.
  • After the flowers of naturalizing bulbs such as crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, ipheion and species tulips fade, allow the foliage to wilt and turn brown before pruning back. While the leaves are green, they continue to absorb energy for next year’s flower show.


  • The best mint for the garden is the contained mint. Unless you are looking for a fragrant, rampant groundcover, plant mint in a pot to restrain its ability to run crazy through the garden.
  • ’Tis time to fertilize. In particular, established roses, shrubs, perennials and trees will benefit from a wake-up jolt of nutrients early in the month. To minimize this job for the rest of the growing season, use a time-release fertilizer that will slowly send nutrients into the root zone over the next several months.
  • An additional, all-natural way to add extra nutrients is to also work generous helpings of compost into growing beds.

Timely Tip
What color would you like your hydrangea to be this year? Many cultivars of Hydrangea macrophylla are sensitive to soil pH, so in growing ground that is well limed to the point of becoming alkaline, their flowers are deep pink. In acidic soils or planting beds that have been treated with sulfur or an aluminum sulfate solution, the flowers turn blue. Such shifty color changing will be made faster if this hydrangea is planted in the confines of a large pot or planter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *