As more and more urban families begin to explore growing food at home, we read about more and more run-ins with homeowner’s associations and city councils claiming that our gardens are unsightly and inappropriate. While I do not recommend backing down or growing apologetically as we strive to show our communities what can be possible, I do want to encourage the aesthetically minded that food can indeed be one of the results of the beautifully landscaped yard.
Some of the most nutritious foods are also the most ornamental and find nutrient companionship and protection from pests in your favorite flowers. Today I will discuss some of my favorite varieties for landscaping by breaking down their different needs and ornamental companions.
Dry and Sunny
Thyme, Rosemary, and Sage are classic kitchen herbs to fill out your sunniest of flower beds. All three are drought tolerant so they do not require extra attention. They are also evergreens, ensuring that your beds will show life year round. These pair well with ornamentals like Lavender, Marigold, and Creeping Phlox.
Vegetables to include in dry and sunny conditions are Cherry Tomatoes, Shallots, and Zucchini. The smaller tomatoes will add a pop of color without the overwhelming height and water needs of larger varieties. Likewise, the shallots require much less water than their full-grown counterparts, and the zucchini produces brilliant yellow flowers and large leaves to shade the roots of your other plants.
To care for these beds, add rich compost and mulch after each growing season and water once per week.
Moist and Sunny
Where you can provide full-sun and at least moderate moisture consider including Bell Peppers, Chili Peppers, Brussels Sprouts, a mix of Red and White Cabbages, Leeks, and Eggplant. Peppers and cabbage have long been grown as ornamentals with their wide range of colors and sizes. Leeks also produce a brilliantly blue-green leaf that can be eaten and re-grown throughout the season. Brussels sprouts also add a very unique stalk that would look lovely with tall flowers such as Gladiolas.
Herbs to include in the same space are Fennel, Oregano, and a bushy Basil. Chives would also make a great border addition with their soft purple flowers and tendency to grow as perennials in the right climate. Strawberries also make an attractive perennial border but will need to be covered with a protective layer of straw during winter months.
These varieties will benefit from rich compost and mulch as well, but require more frequent deep watering at 3 to 4 times per week.
This is a great location for fruit bushes and vegetables that tend to prefer cooler weather. Though it may not receive direct sunlight, the area should be bright at least 6 hours of the day. Blackberries, blueberries, and Crabapple trees add attractive but productive structure to shade gardens and the berries help to draw wildlife away from other crops. Just be sure to plant enough to share!
Vegetables to include would be your lettuces and salad accompaniments, such as radishes, carrots, and peas. As these all grow in the same conditions as Lily, Hydrangea, and Camelia, they can very easily be dressed-up.
Herbs to grow alongside are Chervil, Lemon Balm, Mint, and Parsley. Just contain the mint if you do not want it all over the yard.
This is always the toughest in which to grow edibles. A rule of thumb in the garden is that anything grown for the root or fruit requires full sun, and anything grown for the leaf will take shade. However, no edible takes no sun. It may require experimentation to find what will grow in your shadiest areas, but if you get at least some dappled sunlight try growing some of the same greens that take partial shade. They will not produce as quickly or prolifically, but they will produce something you can eat, even if only baby greens. You can also experiment with growing mushrooms which love dark, moist environments. However, be sure to order or save mushroom spores from reliable sources and never from something you have found in the wild unless you are a mushroom expert (which I am sure none of us here today can call ourselves).
Photo Credit: Tom Leroy provides a beautiful example bed including red salad leaves, onion, and garlic alongside his fall flowers.