Decorative Edibles for Double-Duty Garden Beauty

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For decades, vegetables have been imprisoned in cages and banished behind the back walls of houses. Why? Are they embarrassing? Ugly? Unsightly? They don’t have to be seen that way. It’s time to look at these hard-working plants for more than just their practical roles in the garden.

Many vegetables offer interesting forms and shapes, decorative leaves, flowers or colorful fruit. Here are just a few ideas that might inspire you to invite edibles into your flower garden for their beauty.

Design fruits and vegetables into existing landscapes, garden areas or create a whole edible front yard by twining pole beans or peas up decorative trellises or over an archway. Both these plants offer colorful flowers and fruits that will dangle beautifully. Line up red cabbages as purple edgings to outline a flower bed. Cover ugly tree stumps with rambling, orange-flowered pumpkin vines. Or grow a feathery fence or background texture to a flower garden with tall asparagus plants.

Create romantic or tropical garden effects with the big, bold foliage of artichoke plants or rhubarb. Artichokes will fill a 6-by-6 feet space, tolerate poor soil and bloom with showy, electric-indigo, brush-like flowers. Rhubarb prefers more shade, moisture and a richer soil and will add a glowing ruby red to your garden.

You can find peppers with both colorful leaves and showy fruits. Design a whole garden with red, green, orange, yellow or purple sculptural peppers dangling like ornaments or contrast deep chocolate or purple foliage with bright greens. Mix and match these with other edibles or flowering plants in the landscape. You can do the same with multi-colored tomatoes.

Cover an unsightly wall with a riot of edible color. Use an espaliered, flat-trained, fruit tree like pear or lemon. Attach vines like cucumbers, small melons or gourds so they cover the surface with thick leaves and display fruits like decorations. Or spill pots of trailing tomatoes or strawberries down from the top of walls to drape the space with rich green foliage and colorful tasty treats.

Now that I have you thinking outside of the box — or the traditional vegetable garden, anyway — you can start coming up with some of your own ideas. There are so many different shapes, colors, textures, sizes and growth habits in fruits, vegetables and herbs that you can design whatever you want to get double-duty out of your edibles. Combine them with other garden plants and pop in some décor. Let your imagination not only help you obtain delicious, nourishing food from these plants, but also help you improve the beauty of your landscape.

Photo credits: Jane Gates

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