With the new interest in food growing that has arisen in these uncertain times, many gardeners want plants that look attractive in their garden or greenhouse but are also good to eat. While all well-grown vegetables have a lovely look—I’m thinking of a row of cabbage, or a square foot carpet of cut-and-come-again greens—some vegetables do double duty. They’re so good looking, they’ll fit right into the ornamental side of the garden, and they’re tasty too.
Diane Blazek, Executive Director of the All American Selections with the National Garden Bureau, calls these ornamental vegetables orna-edibles. “Today’s consumers are looking for plants with a dual purpose. Any ornamental has to do more than look good, it should also, for example, attract pollinators,” she says. “The same with edibles. They need to look good and provide food at the same time.”
Here are Diane’s suggestions. All of these are suitable to sunny locations, and their smaller size allows them to fit right in to window boxes, mixed containers, and patio plantings, or you could extend their beautiful season by tucking them into your greenhouse.
Basil Purple Ball – How about a dark purple 2-foot round ball of basil? Purple Ball is a great accent plant that draws the eye wherever you want to put it. Purple flowers make even more show. The mild-tasting leaves add their dark color to any salad. It’s brand new to the market. Be the first to have this one in spring of 2021.
Mizuna Red Kingdom – This is one to plant right now. The purple leaves of this Japanese mustard stand up well to late-summer heat, and happily grow well into the fall. Use this in places where you would plant ornamental cabbage or kale. It’s a high-yielding mizuna, and the flavorful leaves will add sparkle to any salad.
Oregano Drops of Jupiter – This highly ornamental oregano shows off chartreuse-yellow foliage against dramatic pink-mauve flowers, surrounded by an outermost ring of darker purple. These last longer after the inner petals have gone by, extending the dramatically colorful season. The leaves are edible, with a less intense flavor than culinary oregano.
Sweet Potato Treasure Island – Here’s the perfect companion in a large mixed container planting. Treasure Island can produce trailing leaves to soften the edges and then in late fall, the purple tubers can be harvested. Now that’s a true two-fer.