Edible Plants with Great Ornamental Value
There’s a tendency to think of landscaping plants as one thing, and edibles as another. Traditionally landscaping plants are the showy shrubs with beautiful flowers and foliage, colorful displays of flowers, formal hedges… and lawn to fill in the spaces between the plants. Edibles? More often than not, if they are there at all, they’re in their separate area – a raised bed or a container box.
But you can have your landscape and eat it too.
Many edible plants in fact make excellent landscaping plants. They can provide all the functions of landscaping plants: they add form, texture, color, privacy, and interest to your yard. At the same time, they have the added benefit of saving money and energy, and providing healthy fresh food that you know is safe to eat (because you grew it yourself!).
Here are some ideas for edible plants that can fill 5 classic niches of conventional landscaping plants.
1. Shrubs with pretty flowers and showy foliage
Everyone knows azaleas, but did you know that a berry bush can be similarly attractive as an elegant green backdrop or focal point – with fresh sweet berries as a bonus? Blueberries have delicate flower buds in the spring, and dazzling foliage in the fall. Serviceberry (Amelanchier) is a lesser-known berry with year-round landscape interest. Also called juneberry or Saskatoon berry, it has showy white flowers, and a fall color range of burgundies, oranges, fuchsias and yellows. Its sweet, bluish-black berries, which ripen in June, resemble blueberries and were used by some Native American peoples in pemmican.
For filling the empty spaces between other plants, you have many more interesting alternatives than the energy- and water-intensive lawn, or mosses and other conventional non-edible groundcovers. Herbs such as creeping thyme and creeping rosemary have been bred to creep close to the ground, and they look incredibly attractive when planted between stepping stones or cascading over a rock wall. Don’t worry about stepping on them, for that only releases their fragrance, making your garden walk even more magical. Strawberry and alpine strawberry are another popular edible groundcover: over time, they form a dense mat with delicate white flowers and later plump, sweet berries.
3. Stunning display of color
Do you want your garden to wow visitors? Some edible plants simply won’t let you go until you’ve paused to admire their explosion of vivid colors. One of them is amaranth, an ancient grain that has made a strong comeback as a gluten-free staple. It has edible seeds and leaves, but what makes it a dramatic ornamental are its deep burgundy-colored stalks, leaves and flowers.
If you want something with a shorter form, plant Rainbow chard: you can count on a rich array of bold yellows and oranges, greens, purples and pinks for months on end. During the cooler seasons, a range of cabbages with hues of silver, purple, green and grey can look incredible attractive, especially when combined with another vegetable with a different color and form, such as dark green chives or garlic.
In landscaping, vines are used for privacy, for shade, and for attractive cover over an arbor or a pergola that anchors the landscape. Why not choose edible vines? Hardy kiwi and grape are great perennial choices (if you plant kiwi, remember to buy both male and female plants). Or train orange and red cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, or summer squash on a trellis for a similar effect. In fact, these vegetables thrive and produce more if you trellis them. So make sure your trellis is sturdy so it doesn’t fall over because of the abundance of food!
Think outside the box(wood). Many edible shrubs can provide all the functions of a hedge – privacy and a sense of containment – while also filling your summer harvest baskets. Blackberry or raspberry, if trained on a trellis, make very effective hedges. A more compact, but evergreen choice is Darrow’s blueberry.
If you live in a plant hardiness zone 8 or warmer, consider Chilean guava (Ugni molinae). It has dense, evergreen foliage, it grows 1-6 feet tall, and its shaped can be determined by pruning. It produces fragrant, bell-shaped white flowers that mature into small, red fruit with guava-like flavor.
Lastly, fruit trees can be espaliered – that is, trained to grow flat against a wall or any other supporting structure – to create an attractive edible fence.