Beautiful Vegetables For Foliage: Tips On Using Edibles As Ornamentals

Beautiful Vegetables For Foliage: Tips On Using Edibles As Ornamentals

I grow gorgeous scarlet Carmen sweet peppers, rippling dinosaur kale, flowering leeks, and crimson strawberries every year, amongst other things. They are so pretty in the garden, or at least I think they are. I also adore flowers and have a multitude of flowering pots with annual color mixed with perennials adorning my deck and front patio. What if the two mixed? What are some beautiful vegetables that can be used for foliage color and how can you mix decorative edibles with other plants?

Veggies and Herbs for Container Foliage

Using edibles as ornamentals to accentuate the beauty of potted annual flowers isn’t a new thing. Many people tuck an herb in here or there amongst their hanging flower baskets. The idea of using vegetable plants as ornamentals first and foremost over growing them for food is a newer inspiration.

Really, this is a win-win proposition since many of these ornamental vegetable plants are also decorative edibles. Sort of like the old Reese’s commercial about who is responsible for getting the peanut butter mixed with the chocolate. In the ad, the end result was delicious just as the end result of mixing flowering annuals and ornamental vegetable plants would be gorgeous as well as useful.

I think all of my veggies are beautiful but if I had to choose, what are some beautiful vegetables for foliage color and texture to add to an ornamental vegetable garden or container?

Edibles as Ornamentals

Well, we’ve already mentioned adding herbs into the mix of container grown annuals and/or perennials. They add not only beauty with various leaf and flower textures and colors, but also a pleasing aroma, which often attract pollinators while repelling unwelcome insect pests. Plus, they are usually situated near the kitchen or grill where their easy accessibility makes us use them all the more often.

It’s easy to mix veggies and herbs for container foliage color and texture and is just as suitable for the rest of the garden. To illuminate your plantings further, try planting in raised garden beds for easy access and improved drainage or create a circular garden that will be a focal point of your landscape.

Ornamental Vegetable Plants

There are a multitude of colorful vegetables that can be added to create interest in containers as well as the garden. Tucking in interesting looking leafy greens will add interest. Leafy greens come in a variety of colors and textures from every shade of green to red hues, bronzes, and purples.

  • Red fire or Red Sails are loose leaf lettuces that bring into play the reddish bronze tones while Cimmaron lettuce is more bronze.
  • Try Freckles instead of plain green romaine. This romaine type is splotched with burgundy and resistant to bolting. Darker burgundy Galactic has curled leaf edges and is also resistant to bolting.
  • Rainbow chard comes in a plethora of colors. Bright Lights is a chard variety whose stems and leaf veins arrive in riotous hues of orange, red, yellow, purple-red, and hot pink. Since it is a taller green, plant it as a backdrop for smaller plants.

I mentioned my Carmen sweet peppers earlier, but there is seemingly no end to the colors, shapes, and sizes available for pepper lovers. Everything from rather “ho-hum” green to purple, white, yellow, red, orange, brown, and even white peppers are available with every available hue within this rainbow of options.

Eggplant is yet another delightful option for the ornamental vegetable gardener. These also come in multi-hued varieties from dark purple to green, white, pink, lavender and even striped varietals.

Tomatoes, with their cheery red fruit, are an obvious choice to integrate splashes of color throughout the landscape. Again, this fruit comes in a dizzying array of colors from white, yellow, purple, green, black, and red and, yet again, striped.

If you thought beans were just green, think again. There are a number of colorful beans that can add a flush of color. Try planting purple or yellow “green” beans. Don’t forget about the colorful bean blossoms! Ornamental scarlet runner bean blossoms are a vivid pink and will enliven any area of the garden or container.

Many of us use cabbage in the fall for added color to our landscape or flower pots when summer colors have begun to fade. Cabbage comes in many shapes and colors, as does cauliflower and broccoli. Oddly hued orange cauliflower or purple broccoli might just be the thing to entice those members of your household who refuse to touch a green veggie!

Don’t forget the perennials! Globe artichoke adds dimension and has striking foliage along with interesting fruit that, if left to linger, turns into a hallucinogenic blue that attracts bees from miles around. Asparagus has long wispy, fern like fronds and rhubarb returns reliably year after year with elephant ear sized leaves beneath which scarlet stalks rise up from the soil.

Caring for Decorative Edibles

With the exception of the perennials, change out the ornamental veggies each year and experiment with combinations that are most pleasing to your eye. An added bonus, crop rotation helps keep the garden and soil healthy. Depending upon the vegetable, you can also change out crops seasonally. As one plant dies back, replant with a cool season vegetable. Include edible flowers that can be tucked in here and there.

Lastly, keep the garden in good shape. Remove any weeds and crop detritus and keep plants pruned and deadheaded. The goal, after all, is to integrate the vegetable plants and herbs in such a way that they are simply seen as ornamental. Maintaining a neat and sanitary ornamental garden will also cut back on the incidence of disease and encourage you to get out there and harvest some of these edible ornamental beauties.

Growing these plants in containers makes them even easier to maintain, but ensure the pots are both large enough to accommodate mature plants and provide adequate drainage.


Want to get a jump on your vegetable garden? Here’s a round-up of cool-season vegetables to grow this spring!

Photo by: draconianimages /

Grown for their tender, edible flower buds, artichokes are perennial vegetables in mild climates and can be planted as annuals each spring in cold climates. In warmer climates like the California coast, you can begin harvesting in late-spring or early-summer.

Photo by: Tracy Lundgren /

Beets come in red, yellow, and white varieties and are at their sweetest when grown in a sunny location in cool weather. It is best to harvest beets when they are small, and they will push themselves up and out of the ground as they mature.

Photo by: Nataly /

Broccoli likes cool weather and a sunny spot to grow in, although it may take a few tries to get it right. According to Barbara Pleasant in her book Homegrown Pantry, “timing, soil fertility, spacing, and pest management - broccoli’s rather exact needs must be met.”

Photo by: Bernd Marczak /

Cold weather triggers the production of sugar in the leaves, so be sure and get your cabbage planted early on so it can benefit from a light frost or two. Cabbage plants need to be protected from damage inflicted by rabbits and deer, although it seems they may be less attracted to the red-leaf varieties. These darker-leaved varieties also make it easier to see pests such as cabbageworms.

Photo by: Blanche / Shutterstock.

Carrots come in a variety of colors, not just the typical orange. Seeds should be sown directly in the garden and not transplanted. Carrots like a location with full sun and deep, loose soil. Barbara Pleasant recommends Nantes types (‘Early Nantes’, ‘Nelson’, and ‘Mokum’) for spring-grown carrots because they “grow fast and keep their sweet flavor in warm soil.”

Edible Garden – Mixing Ornamental and Edible Plants March 1, 2015

At some point in history the plants in our gardens became segregated. Rather than mingling together vegetables, fruits and herbs are often separated into their own areas. But with the resurgence of growing our own food, a diversified garden is much more appealing especially if space is limited.

There are a few guidelines to follow that will help you make the most of unifying edible plants with ornamentals.

First consider your site. If you want to mix edible plants into your flower borders, remember that they require at least 6 hours of sun each day. They also need consistent moisture. If there are areas of your garden that are hard to water , consider mixing herbs into those locations as most herbs are drought tolerant.

Next consider the ornamental value of your edible plants. This is a quality we don’t often think about. What color are the fruits, flowers and foliage? Is it tall and spiky, round and full or cascading? By looking at these qualities, you can use the plants to complement various areas of your garden. For instance, peppers can add bright color to a flower border, and blueberries make a wonderful hedge with spring, summer and fall interest.

Strawberries, thyme, and oregano make excellent ground covers and dwarf fruit trees can be used as focal points. How about growing a grape vine instead of a rose over an arbor? There are quite a few vining vegetables that can be grown on a teepee trellis to add height to a garden border runner beans, cucumbers and Malabar spinach are a few.

There are practical reasons for mixing edibles with ornamental plants, too. Flowering plants attract pollinating and beneficial insects so having them close to your fruits and vegetables increase the chances of these little workers lending a helping hand. In some cases a plant will even aid in pest control by either repelling insects or attracting them and drawing them away from other plants.

  • Catnip – Use it to keep away flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, and weevils.
  • Sunflowers – Sunflowers are an aphid magnet. Use them to draw aphids away from other plants.
  • Petunia – Repels asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, a range of aphids, tomato worms, and a good many other pests.
  • Mexican Marigold – Keeps away rabbits.

Don’t forget containers. Just about anything you plant in the garden you can grow in a container, too. When it comes to edibles look for dwarf or patio varieties. How about a container of cherry tomatoes, geraniums and basil? Lettuce and tulips are a classic spring combination.

You can grow herbs in just about any size pot, but choose a large container for vegetables, especially if you are going to plant several items in one pot. I suggest a using a container that is at least 20-inches in diameter.

No matter what size garden you have, it just makes sense to be efficient and combine vegetables, herbs and flowers. It’s the best way I know to have both beauty and taste.

Growing Vegetables and Flowers in Harmony

There's a bit of fabulous chaos happening in the gardening world. Beans are happily climbing with clematis. Herbs are cohabitating with echinacea. Food is growing with flowers.

It used to be that vegetable gardens were stuck in an out-of-sight corner of the backyard. Flower gardens occupied the high profile spaces around our homes.
Not any more. Plants are busting out of their traditional roles and growing together - wherever - in harmony.

"We've been boxing things up too much," said horticulturalist Erica Shaffer, "Why do we have to have a perennial garden, or vegetable garden? Why can't we just GARDEN?"
This isn't a new idea. For centuries the French have had formal decorative and functional potager vegetable gardens. In medieval times, wealthy Englishmen added herbs and flowers to their kitchen gardens.

Interplanting flowers and vegetable does more than pretty-up the veggie patch. Integrating flowers into your vegetable gardens or growing vegetables in with your flower borders can be fun and beneficial.

"Flowers bring in the pollinators and beneficial insects," said Shaffer.
Pollinating insects like butterflies and bees are crucial for vegetable development. With squash, for instance, you can have lush vines and leaves topped off with stellar large flowers, but if those flowers aren't pollinated, no squash will develop. Beneficial insects are also important because they target and organically control many pests, like the tomato hornworm for example.

Shaffer also says adding flowers and herbs to your garden, repels some pests.
"While I have yet to see a nose on any insect," Shaffer said, "Mixing flowers and herbs up with vegetables, confuses critters. Different smells camouflage each other and fewer pests are drawn to your garden," she said.

As interest in growing our own food increases, many gardeners are adding vegetables to their borders and flower gardens.

Vegetable plants rival ornamental plants in their beauty. Delicate white snap pea blossoms sit on top butterfly-shaped leaves as wispy tendrils curl and dance. There's added benefit in that pea tendrils are edible and an attractive addition to salads.

Exotic looking kale with tall, sturdy, yet ruffled leaves could substitute for elephant ear or banana in a landscape. Yet, you can't add elephant ear to a stir-fry. Kale is jammed packed with vitamins and minerals. Dill or fennel foliage is feathery and delicate. Fine foliage herbs are comparable in texture to ornamental grass and would be perfectly at home in a perennial border.

While some veggie plants are easily seen as decorative, Shaffer says beauty is in the eye of the beholder with some veggie plants.

"If you're still harvesting tomatoes in September from a plant in your front yard," said Shaffer, " maybe you won't judge the plant so harshly if it's beginning to look a little ragged."

There are things to consider when adding vegetables to flower gardens. Shaffer said she would think about how many rabbits are in your neighborhood. Planting vegetable among ornamentals provides more hiding space for rabbits making it easier for them to wipe out your harvest.

It is also necessary to match vegetable and ornamental plants with the same growing requirements. Vegetables need six or more hours of sun and they need good soil.
If you aren't interested in sequentially planting vegetables in your flower beds, choose vegetables with a long growing season. Peas and some leafy greens, while attractive during the cool seasons of spring and fall, don't handle heat. That might be fine in a perennial bed that fills out in summer, but if you need summer interest, beans, corn or melons have longer growing seasons.

To keep things pretty while growing flower and food together, Shaffer suggests pondering some classic landscape design rules. Cluster plants in multiples of three or five and vary height and textures of the plants your choosing.

Remember that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. So just garden. If growing food is the most important thing to you, express yourself and go nuts with veggie plants in your landscape. If flowers are your thing, train morning glories up your cornstalks. The most beautiful thing of all is finding your personal vision in the garden. Chaotic or not.

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Edible Gardening in Small Spaces

Edible Design

Lettuces, beans and squash are planted in an almost architectural style, in small, distinct groupings in this unique injection of style into an edible garden's design.

Related To:

Gardening in small spaces can be a real struggle, especially when it comes to growing food. So how can you maximize your minimal gardening space? Garden author Rosalind Creasy has some delicious ideas for a small edible landscape.

Incorporate edible plants, such as veggies and herbs, in ornamental plantings. There are a variety of appetizing plants that please both the eyes and the taste buds. In her garden, Rosalind mixes edibles like cilantro, pimento peppers, Vietnamese coriander, basil, rosemary, Roman chamomile and thyme with roses and other flowering plants.

Maximize space by going vertical. Plant vining vegetables, such as squash or zucchini, and train them up a trellis or other climbing structure. Get creative by planting cherry tomato vines on top of an arbor and allowing them to spill down over the edge of the arbor.

Plant edibles in containers. With their trailing growth habit, strawberries trail nicely over the edge of pots and produce sweet fruit fresh off the plant. Other fruiting plants, such as blueberries and raspberries, or veggies also make excellent container plants. Create a grouping of containers with plants of complementary textures, colors and tastes. Make sure to provide adequate water throughout the seasons.

You may be surprised at how much harvest can be produced in just 100 square feet. In her small-sized veggie patch, Rosalind has harvested at least 20 pounds of 'Early Girl' tomatoes, 30 pounds of 'Better Boy' tomatoes and 30 pounds of yellow zucchinis as well as bell peppers and green zucchinis during one growing season. "It's hundreds of pounds and dollars," says Rosalind. "The zucchini was $2.97 worth of seeds and the produce was worth probably $150."

Container Gardening Care

Water container plants thoroughly. How often depends on many factors such as weather, plant size, and pot size. Don't let soil in containers dry out completely, as it is hard to rewet. To keep large containers attractive, spread a layer of mulch as you would in the garden. This will also help retain moisture. Be sure to keep mulch an inch or so away from plant stems.

Container gardening plants need regular feeding. Fertilize them by watering with diluted fish emulsion, seaweed extract, or compost tea. Or foliar feed by spraying the leaves with doubly diluted preparations of these solutions. Start by feeding once every two weeks adjust the frequency depending on plant response.

Since containers are focal points in the garden, you will probably want to give them special attention to keep them looking their best. Remove tattered leaves and deadhead spent flowers. Prune back plants that get leggy or stop blooming. To keep mixed pots attractive, dig out or cut back any plants that don't grow well or that clash. You can add something else or let other plants in the container fill the space. Keep an eye out for pests like aphids and mites.

Watch the video: My Apartment Edible Garden Tour . Jamie Kate