Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Edibles in your Garden Landscape

Most gardens today are solely ornamental and many of the ones that are edible are tucked into hidden corners of back yards, valued solely for their contribution to the pantry. Before herb gardens and vegetable gardens were relegated to their own spaces, kitchen gardens, cottage gardens, and landscapes around homes were filled plants that were as beautiful as they were useful.

Fortunately, edible landscaping is making a comeback, with more home gardeners choosing to plant attractive edibles that are easy on the eye as well as the dinner plate. A productive, functional and beautiful landscape can be grown on any scale and is especially useful when gardening in a limited space. 

Consider adding a few edibles to your garden from the Garden Club of Villa Park Plant Sale (May 12 & 13, 2017 -  320 E Wildwood, Villa Park, IL)  You can get details and pre-order forms on their website: www.homegardening.org. 

Here are a few basic ideas to get your edibles mixed into your garden landscape:

Height and Depth: pairing together edibles of varying heights in one bed or area creates an interesting look similar to wilder-inclined flower beds. Most vegetables prefer a full day of sun, but some can tolerate 4 to 6 hours of sun.  Any greens and cool-weather loving edibles enjoy the relief of some shade in the hottest parts of the year, so consider interplanting them with taller sun-loving vegetables and edible flowers or herbs. For example, the handsome Spotted Trout Lettuce can be planted under Ping Pong Tomatoes for contrasting colors, depth, height, and a one-stop salad harvest. African Crackerjack Marigolds (a very tall variety) can serve as a backdrop for a row of alternating Red Russian Kale and Purple Vienna Kolhrabi, with Arugula or Spinach interplanted between the brassicas – for a rich landscape of orange, red, purple, and deep green.

In extra cramped quarters, the same effects can be achieved within one pot. For example, Nasturtiums (edible flowers with a peppery kick) can serve as a “groundcover,” draping over the side of a tall container, with one Rainbow Chard and Tom Thumb Pea plant growing up from the center of the pot.

Succession sowing is also a useful tool both for food production and for growing an edible landscape. For example, radishes – a quickly maturing crop -- can be interplanted with Red Express Cabbage – a pretty, petite cabbage that matures quickly, for a cabbage. Sunflowers can be added to complete the trio, which will eventually grow tall enough to shade out the entire area, but not before the radishes and cabbages are ready to be harvested.  You can also use succession planting to give a continuous crop for herbs like dill or cilantro which can form seed rather quickly eliminating the ability to harvest the tasty leaves.

Colorful Contrast: Simply planting your go-to vegetables in a new formation creates a beautiful, new landscape. Planting Purple Peacock Broccoli and Cauliflower in one block will make for a snow white and rich purple/green checkerboard. Grouping a variety of colorful flowers and vegetables in a cluster instead of a row will automatically bring aesthetic interest to a corner of your garden.

The easiest way to create colorful contrast is to let some of your edible plantings go to seed! Not only will you end season with your very own seed bank, but ordinary plants will assume beautiful, new forms: lettuces, for example, will grow tall and bloom like clusters of tiny dandelions; leeks will shoot out one long stalk with a giant, lavender-hued, globe-shaped blossom.

Choose unusual varieties of usual vegetables in the interest of color, nutrition, and flavor. Merlot Lettuce is merlot colored, Lemon Cucumbers are lemon colored, and Rainbow Chard, yes – also true to its name – comes with stalks in varying colors.
purple basil in the center pot,
 edible and color coordinated

Substitute: Another helpful way to think about edible landscapes is to substitute edible varieties for each role you want a plant to serve in the garden. Want a vine to climb up the back fence? How about peas, followed by pole beans: they have beautiful flowers and foliage and also produce delicious pods. Looking for a petite tuft of grass to edge your pathway? How about chives instead – a hardy, perennial with great flavor and attractive magenta blooms. Thyme works great not only as an indispensable seasoning, but as a groundcover too, especially in between a stone pathway. Purple Basil can substitute for a coleus and has the same burgundy foliage.  Adding edible flowers to the flower garden can give you double duty. Chamomile and feverfew look like small daisies; Borage, bachelor Buttons, Love-in-a-Mist can all be eaten; Nasturtiums are well known for the peppery flavor of the leaves and the flowers. And pansies and calendula are also edible.

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