Say Yes to This Gardening No-No for Amazing Results
By Barbara Pleasant
It happens every year. I start the season by planting herbs, vegetables and flowers in their own little beds, but within weeks they start to mingle. Why not lift some of those extra borage seedlings and put them by the cucumbers? The next thing you know, I’m planting parsley around the roses, and letting calendulas grow among the chard. You can call this edible landscaping, but it’s really nothing more than relaxing old rules on growing edibles, and adding a few tricks borrowed from landscape design. If you want your garden to be both beautiful and edible, here are five easy ways to get started.
The same way a flower gardener might echo colors—for example, using bronze coleus to play up bright orange marigolds—you can mix and match veggies and herbs with flowers. Dark purple basil leaves can be paired with light pink petunias, or you might grow radically red chard before a backdrop of scarlet runner beans. Placing edibles with colorful foliage, like chard, beets or lettuce, near flowers that bloom in lighter or darker shades is guaranteed to create beautiful special effects.
Play with Cool Blues
Blue goes with everything, so plants that bloom blue are top candidates for creating edible ornamental combinations. Sky-blue borage blossoms look great with yellow or orange nasturtiums or zinnias, and borage is a cinch to grow from seed. Culinary sage is a rich source of blue flowers too, and its gray foliage makes a harmonious neutral in a mixed flowerbed. Of course, lavender is the most beloved of herbs that bloom blue. Pairing lavender with pink-blooming ornamental alliums or light blue pansies will create a relaxing mood. To go high contrast, jazz up your lavender scene with compact red geraniums or other annuals that bloom bright red.
Use Contrasting Textures
In addition to working with colors, make the most of the unusual forms and textures of vegetables, which can be coarse, fine or in between. Small drifts of upright onions create islands of order, and pretty lettuces impart a lacy effect. Perennial vegetables such as rhubarb can be terrific texture plants in the garden. A single red-stemmed rhubarb plant can serve as a coarse visual anchor for a mixed bed, which might be balanced with a nearby planting of feathery asparagus, its textural opposite.
Include Vertical Elements
We humans must look down to view most plants, so it’s a welcome change when we find ourselves looking up to appreciate tall caged tomatoes or a bamboo tripod dripping with snap beans. The possibilities are endless here, because numerous edible plants are enthusiastic climbers. When given appropriate support, pole beans or asparagus beans will form towers of foliage; or you can use naturally upright plants like corn, purple millet or okra. Locate vertical elements toward the back of the garden so they will function as visual backdrops without blocking other plants from view.
Plant Edible Edges
Dwarf curled parsley is a perfect plant to weave into low edgings, where it combines easily with pansies, dwarf ageratum, or other popular edging plants. Try using creeping lemon thyme or annual sweet alyssum to soften the edges of angular beds or large containers. If you include dwarf basil in a walkway planting of summer annuals, perhaps punctuated with a container of peppermint, you can swish your hand through the leaves each time you pass, releasing delicious herbal aromas.
Why not let every bed in your yard become a feast for the eyes and the palate? These ideas are only a few of the possibilities that await gardeners who are willing to be matchmakers between pretty flowers and good things to eat.
Barbara Pleasant is not just an expert, she’s passionate about everything garden. She’s the author of four books, including Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens and is a contributing editor to Mother Earth News and the Herb Companion magazines. Her work has garnered her multiple awards.