Edible Garden – Mixing Ornamental and Edible Plants

Edible GardenAt 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.

Window Box with Geraniums, Basil and Cherry TomatoesDon’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. 

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