In my opinion, vegetable gardens are as beautiful as gardens planted purely for ornamental purposes. However, before Rosalind Creasy wrote about edible landscaping, I don’t think people thought vegetables could be part of an ornamental landscape. By growing vegetables that are beautiful in and of themselves and mixing them with fruit trees and flowers, you can create your own edible paradise.
Early spring vegetables especially lend themselves to landscaping. Because they are often leafy greens, they don’t need to grow into much larger plants that set fruit like a tomato, for instance. However, tomatoes can also be worked into an edible landscape too.
It’s all about how you place them, along with what kind of structure you use to support their limbs and get their fruit up off of the ground. I used a red tomato cage because it pulls the color from the cherry tomato. Not only is a structure like this beautiful, but also, expedient because leaves and fruit can be damaged by insects and fungi if they aren’t lifted upward. Still, a tomato cage will only work with determinate tomatoes. Most heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate and require a much stronger structure. Squash suffer from the same problems with its fruit as the might tomato. One way to elevate the conversation is to grow plants in containers like this squash I snapped a photo of at Sunset Magazine’s headquarters in California. Just look at that galvanized metal container. It’s beautiful in its own right.
By planting ornamental vegetables in key places, you can have a beautiful garden no matter the season. Start in spring with red and green lettuces. To do the alternating pattern I made below, you can sprout lettuces indoors and transplant them, or sow seeds outside and then move them about once they have at least two true leaves. I moved these when they were quite small so I watched them carefully and gave them plenty of water so they wouldn’t go into transplant shock. Also, using manure tea that you make–I show you how in The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff–or, by purchasing some from Authentic Haven Brand, you give these little transplants a boost of nitrogen and micronutrients. I suggest manure or compost tea for any vegetables transplanted into the garden. You can also use it to boost seeds once they sprout out of the ground.
When thinking of the ornamental edible garden, don’t forget flowers, both those that are edible like the nasturtiums below, but also those that aren’t. Just make sure neighbor kids and adults don’t browse the vegetable and flower food bar in your front yard until they ask you which plants can be eaten and those that will give them a tummy ache or worse.
So, this spring, when you plan your vegetable garden, draw a simple design first. You can find several in my book, but you can also draw your own. Then, fill your vegetable garden with beautiful and colorful vegetables, great structure for vining and tall plants and edible and inedible flowers. When choosing flowers, don’t forget pollinators either. They will help your squash and other plants bloom and grow. Pollinators also need our help desperately, and by picking flower seeds of simple flowers, you can create a garden that is both beautiful and healthy for you and the planet.