You don’t have to decide between a beautiful garden or a productive one. Do both! This is an article that I originally wrote for Yahoo Voices. Since the contributor network is closing down this month and all of the work there is getting removed and returned to the owners, I figured it is high time I relocate it to my own blog. There will be several articles over the next few weeks that were originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network for Yahoo Voices. So, without further ado, let’s look at how to make an edible garden also a decorative one.
Garden vs Yard Ornaments
Maybe you have a garden, but like having pretty things growing as borders around your yard. Maybe you don’t really have the space for a traditional garden, but can manage a few raised beds in front of the house. Maybe you have a lot of neighborhood kids who like to sneak in and eat from your garden as they pass by on the way to school. Maybe you just fear that when the manure hits the fan, people are going to be desperate enough to raid other people’s gardens to feed their families and leave yours starving. Possibly you find that some years your garden doesn’t produce as well as you might like and you would love to have some extra things growing, but just don’t want to give up your pretty garden. Whatever the reasons might be, here is an idea that you might enjoy.
Most of these plants are highly decorative, though a few are plain ugly and people will think you are growing them to have some holiday decorations when the time comes. Either way, most people will look at them and just assume they are ornamental rather than edible. This is especially true if you treat them as decorative plans in how you place and arrange them to grow. I will list a few out and you can come up with others of your own. This is just a taste, but I can tell you from experience that they are quite effective at keeping anyone from taking from your garden and look absolutely wonderful as they are growing.
Some Edible Landscaping Ideas
Amaranth – This stuff is actually pretty impressive. Some of it is amazingly decorative and it not only gives you grains, but greens as well. One variation you are likely quite familiar with is the plant known as ‘love lies bleeding’.
Flowering Cabbage/Kale – Very decorative, but almost never eaten. Some of it is pretty rigid stuff, so you will have to cook it well as you would with collard greens in some cases. Not the most amazing flavor profile, but it does work well as an emergency food plant and is quite pretty in many cases.
(not so) Green Beans – I am not sure why, but if the look or color of a bean is not green or yellow, people seem to assume you can’t eat it. Winged beans are quite attractive hanging on a plant and entirely edible. Purple beans are easily found and are just as good as most green or yellow varieties. Purple Pole beans climb and can work very along a fence. Bush beans work nicely in border arrangements or flower boxes. I personally love Dragon’s Tongue for both it’s many uses and wonderful flavor. Visually the flowers are lovely and the beans are very unique.
Green or White Tomatoes – Okay, there is no hiding that you have a tomato plant among your flowers, but if you do it right, they can look like they are supposed to be there. By picking green or white varieties, you won’t have people or birds trying to snatch the ripe fruits. Just pick a variety with caution. Many of them have a ‘green’ flavor as well. Pick one that has a ‘real’ tomato taste if you want to do more than fry them.
Riesetomate – This is the citrus of the tomato world, but still good for eating. It, as the above, will look like a tomato undeniably, but where greens and whites are playing under-ripe, this plant doesn’t bother. Instead it grows a lumpy, bumpy, mangled fruit that people will look at and pass over. It can be quite fetching in the garden, but people just assume that anything looking like that is not safe to eat.
Ornamental Tomatoes – There are any number of decorative looking tomatoes out there beyond those mentioned above. Some have odd mottling colors, others have colored stripes that look like they can’t possibly be a food item. They add a splash of color that would otherwise be strait red. Indigo Rose, Striped Roman, Violet Jasper and Ananas Noire all come to mind as good choices.
Ornamental Peppers – Seriously, how simple can it be. People think it is just way too pretty to be a food. Some of them have purple leaves, many of them have all sorts of colors. If you like sweet peppers, I suggest the ‘sweet pickle’ with it’s multicolor nature. If you like Hot, go with Bolivian Rainbow or Chinese Five Color, both for the same reason as the sweet.
Loose Leaf Lettuce – It looks a lot like a ground cover hiding among the other plants and filling in spaces. They do great when shaded since it keeps them from getting bitter and rough thanks to the shade keeping them cooler and many come on varieties that are just too neat for words. Some examples are Red Cabbage Lettuce, Oak Leaf Lettuce, Red Sails and Forellenschluss.
Swiss Chard – It is easy to find the 5 color varieties and they can be stunning in a decorative garden. Better still, they can be used as a green, in soups, in stir fries, etc. The stems are great treated like asparagus, and cooked with a bit of butter. There is just a slight hint of sweetness to them thanks to their beet heritage.
Long Beans – Climbing vines leave enormously long beans dangling from them. These curly lengths of bean look like a purely decorative plant to the casual observer, especially the red bean varieties. However, they are great fried or used in a number of Chinese dishes.
Husk Tomatoes/Ground Cherries – Looking like decorative Japanese Lantern plants, they can be quite attractive. Who would realize that inside of that papery shape dangling from the plant is a tasty little treat? I myself happen to have a delicious pie recipe that calls for these little wonders.
Blue Podded Garden Peas – Again a matter of color adding visual appeal and creating a belief that it is not an edible plant. These can be eaten young as a snow pea style or allowed to mature into a full pea. These are even more decorative than runner beans!
Ugly Squash – For some reason many people find warty and ugly masses of squash to be wonderful table decorations. Many times people don’t even seem to realize that the decorations they are buying are entirely edible. Try Hubbards, Black Futsu or Galeux d’Eysines as possible options.
Decorative Squash – You can go to Walmart today and find them. They are near the produce, but sold as decorations rather than eating items. Carnival Squash, Turban Squash and Sweet Dumplings are a few examples of these. They look great and many can’t imagine eating something they would usually decorate a porch with.
Crab Apples – This one takes a bit more planning, but the next time you want to plant some pretty tree in your hard, why not get a Crab Apple tree? Sure the fruits are tart and the size of a golf-ball, but they can make amazing cider, wonderful jellies and pies, and you will never have to worry about them getting out of hand or having ever kid in the neighborhood pillaging your tree for the best fruits. As a bonus, there are a few varieties of crab apple that are sweet instead of sour.
Cranberries and lowbush blueberries – These make great ground covers, though they can be pretty acid-loving, so be aware of that when you plant them. Even better, they produce colorful berries that can be eaten! Blueberries are something people recognize, but are generally not inclined to go picking off of the tiny ‘wild’ plants since it takes a long time and would make it clear someone was digging in your garden. Cranberries don’t get a lot of love and just look like decorative plants at a glance.
Flowers – Obvious isn’t it? Edible Flowers are not really used a lot in this day and age, but some of them used to be common to every garden. Borage is still around, as is viola (Johnny Jump Ups) and of course the violet (ever tried violet pudding?). Everything from Sunflowers to Daylily can find its way to the plate.
These are just ideas. You can probably think of all sorts of interesting plants that are edible and still have a ton of visual appeal. I tried to only list those that could mask as something else well, but if you don’t fear people raiding your garden, you can pick a few more that are obviously food, but just too attractive to pass up as a visual garden item. Good luck and feel free to add your own findings in comments about what sort of plants look great trimming your house or other such usages.