I had a friend who grew up on a farm and even now, years later, she refuses to plant anything unless it has some sort of usefulness. To earn a place in her garden, plants require more than pretty petals; they have to deter pests or provide a source of food. Today, more and more people are planting similar useful gardens by combining edible plants with flowers in an effort to introduce more home grown foods in their diet.
This mix of food and flowers is also very practical for those with small yards or even balconies. Years ago, people lived off the food from their gardens, much like my friend with the farmer roots. Commercial food production took over and people transformed their gardens by planting lawns and blooming ornamental plants. Now, however, we're seeing a merging of the two as home owners are going back to their grass roots. Often, fruit trees are chosen over ornamental varieties. Fences and trellises are now being adorned by grapes, and vegetables are being planted in amongst summer annuals. Even landscapers are noticing the difference, with requests for edible landscape designs becoming more common.
Here are some tips to get you thinking like an edible plant gardener:
Add color by planting red cabbage, yellow peppers, purple eggplants or rainbow chard. Combining these nourishing plants with flowers attracts more useful insects and increases flower production and vegetable yields. Certain plants such as garlic when planted next to roses, provides a natural insecticide by repelling aphids.
Instead of ornamental shrubs, try blueberries for their tasty fruit, fall color and low maintenance. Others include Saskatoon/Juneberry, Gooseberry, or Blue Elderberry. Hazelnuts when trimmed, make wonderful hedges, and strawberries make a tasty ground cover.
For filling in those large areas, try horseradish, or Jerusalem artichoke with its showy yellow flowers.
Shade tolerant veggies include beets, brussel sprouts, cabbage, garlic, leaf lettuce, spinach, turnips and radishes. Once you taste the flavor in your homegrown delicacies, you'll be increasing your crop every year.
Edible flowers are both decorative and tasty when added to salads and soups. Some of my favorites include:
Nasturtiums - Adds a peppery flavor to salsa and gazpacho.
Anise Hyssop - Sweet anise or black licorice flavor.
Basil - Flowers have a similar, milder taste than the leaves.
Bee Balm - Use leaves and flowers to make tea with an Earl Grey flavor.
Borage - Large shrub with purple star-shaped flowers that taste like cucumber are wonderful in soups and salads.
Calendula - The bright orange flowers taste similar to saffron with a peppery taste that adds a golden color to foods.
Carnation - Has a peppery, spicy flavor.
Chamomile - Tastes similar to apple and makes a relaxing tea that's easy on the stomach.
Chicory - The beautiful bright blue flowers tolerate the worst of growing conditions. The roots can be used to make a coffee substitute, the buds can be pickled similar to a caper, and the young leaves make a nice addition to a salad.
Chives - Flowers have a mild onion flavor and the chopped stems are a nice addition to soups, salads or just about any recipe you would add onions.
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