One of my mother’s favorite life rules was that one should always be ready, willing and able to wear multiple hats. She was a big believer in being able to handle more than one task at a time. At our family owned nursery it was not unusual to see her designing container gardens, operating the bobcat or balancing the books all on the same day. It’s something that I always admired about her.
Multi-tasking is also a characteristic that I look for in a plant. The small size of my home garden requires that I be selective about the plants choose. My number one rule is that they must serve more than one purpose. For instance the holly hedge that encloses the fountain garden offers an evergreen backdrop for nearby perennials and the bright red berries attract wildlife; the four Jane magnolias in the rondel produce gorgeous purple blooms, but the trunks also have an interesting silhouette in winter.
Some plants even go a step further by not only enhancing the garden, but offering something that can be used to improve our lifestyles as well. The blueberry is an excellent example. It is a deciduous shrub that produces spring flowers and brilliant autumn color. Combine these charms with the flavorful berries and you have what I like to call a double duty plant.
Here is a list of my top 25 double duty plants. To make the cut the plants must bring value to the garden and supply the gardener with something useful or, perhaps even frivolous, for their day to day life.
Top 25 Double Duty Plants
- Apple (Malus spp.) – Produces flowers in spring and apples for pies in autumn. Columnar varieties are great for small spaces or try your hand at espalier to grow apples against walls.
- Artemisia – My favorite gray foliage plant to use for bridging contrasting colors in the garden. The aromatic leaves are also great for repelling insects and when planted in drifts may also deter small animals.
- Bay (Laurus nobilis) – An excellent herb for cooking and one of the easiest plants to train as a topiary.
- Blueberry – Brilliant fall color and tasty berries. What more could you ask for?
- Catnip (Nepata cataria) – A must for cat lovers, plus the blue gray foliage is a nice neutral color in the garden. Use it in the garden to keep away flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, and weevils. A sachet of dried catnip will repel ants and cockroaches indoors.
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – Produces an exceptionally showy flower for an herb. I keep plenty on hand for seasoning recipes. It’s also an easy herb to grow indoors over winter.
- Dill (Anethum graveolens) – Dill mixed with a little butter adds a nice zip to carrots. In the garden it repels aphids and spider mites, but attracts hoverflies and predatory wasps. Plus it is a favorite food of swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
- Echinacea – Extremely carefree and butterflies love the flowers. After the petals fall, the cones are an interesting addition to cut flower arrangements. Echinacea tablets help boost the immune system.
- Four O’Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) – Wonderful for adding fragrance to the evening garden and very easy to grow. The plant also acts as a Japanese beetle trap. The beetles love to eat the foliage, which is toxic to them. It’s also harmful to gardeners as well so be aware of that.
- Garlic (Allium sativum) – What would the world be without garlic? It’s an important seasoning for food, good for you and a helpful companion plant for repelling whiteflies, aphids, Japanese beetles, and fungus gnats.
- Gourds (Lagenaria) – This fast growing vine provides summer interest or a quick cover for privacy or to veil unattractive elements. The fruits are fun for autumn decorations.
- Gray Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) – Because of its dense, compact habit santolina is a favorite to use as a border plant. It’s particularly nice in knot gardens. Use it in potpourris to help repel moths.
- Kale (Brassica oleracea) – Kale is rich in folic acid, Vitamins A and C, and calcium. I recommend making space for kale in your garden because it tastes better immediately after harvest. It’s a great container plant too!
- Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byazntina) -Kid’s love the soft, fuzzy leaves of this plant. It’s fairly drought tolerant and the silver-gray color is very attractive. You can make an unusual wreath by attaching the leaves to a form in a fish scale pattern.
- Lavender (Lavendula spp.) – I can’t imagine my garden without lavender. I just love its fresh scent and delicate blue blooms. A bowl full of dried lavender will make your closet smell sweet and keep away moths.
- Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) – Lemon verbena is one of the most fragrant herbs. Create lemon sugar by combining 6 leaves in a cup of sugar. Store in an air tight container. Leaves hold their scent very well when dried.
- Mint (Mentha spp.) – Whether it’s mint juleps or mint tea this is a must have herb for refreshing flavor. In the garden you can let it run wild or pot it up in a container
- Nasturtium – I love a small bouquet of nasturtium blooms and the spicy foliage is great in salads and cream cheese dip. Nasturtium will protect tomatoes from aphids and white flies. Plant around the base of fruit trees to help repel insects.
- Peppers (Capsicum) – Peppers spice up container gardens with their colorful fruits. Try ‘Black Pearl’, which produces small, round purple fruits that mature to bright red. A string of dried peppers in the kitchen is both decorative and useful for spicing up recipes.
- Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – Butterfly larvae, edging plant, and is said to increase the fragrance of roses when planted together. Bring it indoors as a seasoning or garnish.
- Roses (Rosa spp.) – Roses are beautiful mixed in with other shrubs and perennials. Use the blooms in cut flower arrangements and be sure to select varieties that produce hips in fall. Rose hips offer food for birds, look lovely in bouquets and, if you can gather enough of them, can be pinned to a wreath form to create a lovely autumn display. Rose hips are also very high in Vitamin C.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – This is an essential herb for seasoning roast chicken. Plant it close to a path so you can enjoy the fragrance while out in the garden. Because it is evergreen, rosemary offers winter interest.
- Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris) – This is a great plant for adding color to the vegetable garden. The variety ‘Bright Lights’ produces pink, orange and yellow stems while ‘Ruby’ has bright red stalks. Unlike other greens, it will continue to grow well into summer. Chard is tasty when sautéedor steamed.
- Scented Geraniums (Pelargoniums spp.) – These plants pack a lot of fragrance in their leaves and there is a scent for everyone from lemon to nutmeg to chocolate. The foliage can be used in recipes or potpourris. Scented geraniums make good houseplants.
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – Excellent ground cover, especially around stepping stones and paths as it can tolerate foot traffic. Clip some to bring inside for seasoning soups and meats.