Ornamental Vegetable Garden Seems Like An Odd Idea. But What Is Really Odd Are Ornamental Gardens Without Vegetables. At Least That Is What Our Forefathers Would Have Said. In The Past Cottage Gardens Contained a Mix of Flowers and Vegetables.
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Below are some of the ornamental vegetable plants that make perfect sense in an ornamental garden. They are a design feature that make perfect sense because they are themselves ornamental as well as being edible or having other uses. Plus they develop a biodiverse environment with flowers for pollinators etc.
And as I list them I’ll detail why I use them, how’s they contribute to making the garden look good and when to plant them.
Alliums are members of the onion family and can form huge ornamental flowers and seed heads. Often the are beautiful deeply coloured flowers in purples and reds.
There is however a substitute for these expensive plants. The flower head of Leeks, Onions and related crops make a visual statement in any border. They’ll also attract pollinators, plus you can harvest the seeds for culinary use.
Unsure if a leek will look good in a border? Then consider mixing in the lowly chive. Lowly in star but huge in terms of flavour and colour. They look great in the front of borders, whilst leeks and onions look better further back. Leeks in flower can easily reach two metres in height and some varieties have heads as big a s a football.
Planting time is either in early summer, when you transplant the main leek crop into the veg garden OR wait until spring and transplant any left over mature plants into the flower beds.
Brassicas in Flower Beds
There are a wide range of brassicas that can be grown in ornamental beds. Some have traditionally been considered as both decorative and edible. Whilst others are normally considered as traditional veg garden plants. But both types have their place in my flower border.
Let’s start with a traditional ornamental vegetable that is rarely seen grown today as an edible.
In the 1700s Crambe was considered an edible plant. The leaves, stems and roots were eaten. Today it’s mainly grown as an unusual ornamental plant. It’s an endemic, halophytic perennial in my area near the coast in Devon. Halophyte means it loves salt. So it grows well in sight of the sea where salt laden winds and sea spray may well inundate it. And it is such a tough plant that it survives growing on beaches and copes even better in flower gardens.
But don’t be mislead when I say its tough plan. It might survive tough conditions, but it is succulent when eaten. And the white flowers are profuse in late spring so it gives quite a show.
So I think Crambe is a great addition to the flower beds.
Kale, Cabbage and Other Brassicas in the Flower Garden
If white flowers aren’t enough for you how about yellow? Think now of the bright yellow of oilseed rape fields and transfer that splash of sunshine into your flower beds. It can be a dramatic statement.
In my own case I don’t grow oilseed rape. I take my left over Scarlet Kale and transplant them to the flower beds. The leaf and stem colour alone are a delight. But when it them flowers the sunshine burst gives so much extra value. And just as they are finishing flowering they are awash with aphid. Now that might sound bad .. aphid in the flower beds. But the tits love them and keep them under control.
Parsnip are truly a statuesque plant when flowering. Tall, attractive to insects and a beautiful colour, it makes a real statement at the back of a bed or in the centre of an island bed .
The trick to growing them in the flower bed is to transplant year old (leftover) roots in situ in spring. Then stand well back as they race for the skies The plant in the photo is 2.5 metres high.
Carrots perform in a similar way to parsnips as edimental plants. Any not harvested to eat can be left to produce wonderful flowery stems I year two. I often slip a few carrots from my veg garden into a flower bed in late winter or spring so the pollinators can enjoy the flowers.
More Ornamental Vegetables below.
Perennial (Cottager) Kale
Perennial kale rarely flowers so forget the sunshine splash this time. The benefit of perennial kale in the flower beds is its height. it is a statuesque 2 metres at best and is so dense the tit provides as green backdrop to shorter plants.
I’m not totally convinced by companion planting. Just because gardeners find a flower hides the smell of an onion fit doesn’t mean the insect pest is affected in the same way. Research is not convincing on this point. But having said that a few flowers in amongst the veg looks great.
Over the next months I’ll be adding more than a dozen other veg plants that look good in flower beds. Watch this space.