By Paul James
Who says you can’t combine peppers and petunias? Some of the coolest gardens I’ve ever seen contained a mix of edibles and ornamentals. And whether you call it edible landscaping or foodscaping or whatever, it’s great for folks who don’t have the space or desire to maintain a traditional vegetable or herb garden, but love the idea of harvesting fresh produce.
After all, vegetables and herbs have the same growing requirements as ornamental plants: good soil, plenty of sun, adequate moisture, and regular fertilization. So why not combine edibles and ornamentals in the same garden and enjoy the best of both worlds?
For example, why not use parsley as a border plant? It looks great, tastes great, and if it bolts, that’s hardly a bad thing because its flowers are beautiful and are pollinator magnets. The same goes for sage, from the standard blue-gray version to the tri-color or golden varieties (keep in mind that the hugely popular ornamental Salvias, both annual and perennial, are members of the sage family).
And don’t forget lemon thyme – its variegated foliage and strong lemon scent make it ideal, and it’s delicious in fish dishes. Chives make a great border plant as well, and they produce gorgeous blue (and edible) flowers in late spring. Even lettuce –especially the red-leaved varieties – or mustard or Bok Choy work well, if only for a few weeks in spring and again in fall.
In a mixed flower bed, consider adding an eggplant or two (or three if you love eggplant). The purple-tinged foliage is beautiful, and the fruit hanging on the plant is a real conversation piece when grown alongside flowering annuals and perennials. The same is true of peppers, beans, even squash and determinate tomatoes. For the back of the border, go with a row of corn or the fernlike foliage of asparagus or even okra. And for fun and fantastic flavor, stick a few basil plants here and there.
Finally, consider fruit trees and shrubs as alternatives to strictly ornamental varieties. Possibilities include dwarf apple, cherry, fig, peach, pear, and plum trees, as well as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and serviceberries.
I could go on and on with other possibilities, but you get the idea. Experiment. Have fun with it. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t mix edibles and ornamentals, because you can. And honestly, I think you should.