Friday, March 22, 2013

Eating the Beautiful!

NO! NO!  I’m not talking about cannibalism here; I’m taking about vegetables in flower gardens.  There are some seriously beautiful vegetables that behave, stay within a small footprint and add beauty along with nutrition.

Author Rosalind Creasy has been writing about editable landscaping for over 30 years.  She is featured on the web page of Annie’s Annuals.  Although Annie resides in California and definitely isn’t in our growing zone – she rocks annuals.

Most of us love something with large leaves.  We plant elephant ear, cannas lily, and castor oil bean plants simply to have big showy leaves.  How about thinking outside the ornamental box?

A cabbage plant has big leaves, comes in burgundy, green or a lovely blue/green and at the end of fall it is a food product. 

Chard is another vegetable plant that should be tucked among flowers.  There are varieties with pink, red, gold and white stems and veins looking beautiful in the garden and in the serving dish. 

 Vegetables are high in nutrients and low in fat and cholesterol.  Throw in a bunch of beauty and it’s a plant for all needs.

There are dwarf varieties of tomato, cucumber, squash, pea and bean plants.  They may be called “bush” and won’t vine.  Simply check out the height and width descriptions. 

Squash has beautiful flowers over a long bloom season.  They attract beneficial pollinating insects and the flowers themselves are edible.  The fruit is best when picked young which works well with flower gardens.  Summer squash is bright yellow gold.  Other squash are in greens, orange and brightly patterned.  Even vining summer squash works if you have a sturdy bush where it can climb and you pick them young.  I’ve planted on my trellis with other flowering annual vines and it keeps the beauty of the seasons going until frost.

And yes, zucchini is a valuable garden squash even if your neighbor tries to give you one every other day.  They must be picked young or you will have a green blimp the size a small pig.

Eggplant is another beautiful vegetable/ornamental.  The plants are rather uninspiring but the fruit is a magnificent purple or sometimes mottled with white.

Kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and lettuce are beautiful mixed with flowers.   There are enough varieties of color, texture, size and flavor of lettuce to fill anyone’s desire for beauty and food.

An obvious choice for flower gardens is pepper plants.  Don’t mess with those highly advertised little flavorless ornamentals.  Get a full sized plant which will generate some truly delicious choices in a multitude of colors, flavors, sizes and heat.

Most any herb will be a bonus in the flower garden.  Plus, some varieties will actually deter harmful insects.  On the flip side, some of your flowers will deter harmful insects on vegetables.  Win!  Win!

Some vegetables I don’t recommend and why: 

·         Winter butternut squash – it vines, the fruit gets very heavy, and it should be left in the garden until frost.

·         Root vegetables – to dig up in the fall you will disturb the roots of your perennials (not good.)

·         Rhubarb – not an annual and it needs to be where it can spread plus it looks rather worn in the fall.

·         Fruit berries – berries need specific soil nutrients which are often in opposition to perennial ornamental needs.  Seldom will your bed provide an ideal environment for both at the same time.

·         Sweet corn – the pollination needs for corn are specific and not easily met in small gardens.  You can grow individual plants but they probably won’t produce an ear of corn.

I didn’t mention tomatoes because they seem obvious and then I realized obvious is in the eye of the beholder; the beholder of the garden catalog.  I suggest using bush tomatoes because the weight of a large plant will simply overwhelm perennials.  Plus, full sized plants tend to get rather ugly as they enter full production in late summer.  Almost any size and color tomato is available in the bush option; although not all varieties.

All of these suggestions do well in pots with adequate soil, water and nutrients.  Most all vegetables need full sun for optimum fruit production.  Most do best if the ground is warm and there are no frosts.  Seeds and roots may rot if the ground is too cold.  Not planting until Mother’s Day used to be the rule of thumb.  Planting earlier may need some care and protection.

Remove all parts of the vegetable plants at the end of the growing season even if you like to leave perennials for winter beauty.  Annuals vegetable plants may harbor disease or insects and giving them a free winter home isn’t good.

Do you need to move to California to have a beautiful food producing garden in your flower bed?  Nope!  Simply visit any one of our local nurseries.  What’s the worst that can happen if you plant a vegetable in your flower garden?  If it starts to get too big – pinch it back.  If it bolts too early – pull it up.  If it’s everything you’ve ever wanted – celebrate!

Side note:  I’ve started a “For the Love of Gardening” facebook page for those short little garden snippets and additional photos.  It’s the page with the location of Bishop Hill and my goofy little drawn photo. 

(Photos:  Rosalind Creasy)

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