The world isn’t black and white, so why should your garden be? No need to choose between edible and decorative plants anymore, today’s garden features a bit of both. We’ve rounded up our favorite edible ornamentals so that your garden can be both functional and beautiful this season.
Edible gardens are as practical as vegetable gardens and don’t require any extra work. A blend of perennial shrubs and trees, herbs, edible flowers, decorative vegetables, and edible grasses are the perfect formula for an edible landscape that can help feed your family all season long.
What is Edible Landscaping?
An edible landscape is any garden that contains edible plants, especially food-producing plants that double as ornamentals. Edible gardens allow the grower to have a steady supply of food without sacrificing the beauty of a structured landscape.
Many plants that are healthy for people are also sources of food and habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Some of the best plants to include in edible gardens are already a part of the native landscape and are already perfectly adapted to your area’s climate.
Maybe the best reason to put out an edible garden this year is to add diversity to your landscape. Popular edible plants range from common to extraordinary and you can plant a mix of both types for the best results. Break up the monotony of your average neighborhood and plant something different this season!
Edible landscapes are kinder for the planet, too. Rather than driving to the grocery store to buy produce, you might just start harvesting your own food at home. And very likely you’ll be sharing the bounty with your neighbors!
Edible landscapes may be grown with the intent to harvest food, or edible ornamentals may be grown for looks more than function. Edible ornamentals can provide beauty, shade, and food production, in addition to helping conserve water, reduce pollution and provide habitat for wildlife.
Fruit trees, berries, herbs, nuts, groundcovers, vines, and flowers are all great additions to an edible landscape. A combination of annuals and perennials and a mix of plants of varying heights and bloom times is the best way to round out your garden.
By choosing edible ornamentals, you can turn your garden into a food forest that produces delicious fruits and vegetables, fragrant herbs, and shady spots to sit and relax. In fact, gardening is an excellent therapeutic activity for the whole family, so make this the year to build the edible landscape you’ve been dreaming about.
Some Tips for Edible Landscape Design
As with any landscape, you’ll want to keep certain principles in mind when planning your edible garden. Plant low-growing plants near the forefront of the border, with mid-size plants in the middle of the beds, and the tallest plants towards the back of the bed.
Be sure to consider the climatic requirements of the plants you’ll be growing, and whether you’ll need to provide any additional irrigation. Grouping plants with similar water requirements can help reduce the amount of water you’ll need to provide.
Remember to leave enough room for the edible plants to spread out and develop, as some of them can become quite large.
If you can, plant species together that have the same lighting needs, soil needs, and life cycles. For example, group fruit trees together, herbs and annuals in one section, and perennials in another area. This will help maximize the garden’s efficiency.
Fill in seasonal gaps by placing plants together that bloom at different times of the year. This will help to keep your landscape looking vibrant throughout each season.
Finally, don’t forget to make sure your edible landscape is pleasing to the eye as well. Group plants together in different shapes and sizes that have contrasting colors and textures to create an interesting visual display. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to creating a beautiful, edible landscape.
What to Plant in Your Edible Garden
4 Shrubs and Trees for an Edible Garden
1. Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
If you have the time, it’s worth investing in a few blueberry bushes. The plants take a few years to reach their prime, but you’ll be rewarded for your patience with buckets of the sweetest, juiciest berries you’ve ever tasted. And while you’re waiting on that first harvest, you can enjoy the pink blooms as they transition into rich blue berries.
2. Goji Berry (Lycium barbarum)
Goji berry plants are known as a superfood for their bright red berries, but also boast ornamental appeal with their silvery-green foliage and bell-shaped, pink flowers. Goji berry is a great perennial option for many edible landscapes, since the shrub thrives, with very little maintenance, in zones 6-9.
3. Haskap, Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea)
Haskap, also known as honeyberry or blue honeysuckle, is a cousin to native North American honeysuckle species with the benefit of large edible berries. The elongated blue berries are produced early in the spring and can be enjoyed in all the same way you use blueberries. They have a tangy, sweet-tart flavor and are exceptionally high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and antioxidants. Honeyberry shrubs thrive in cool climates making this a great option for Northern landscapes.
4. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
Native to the Americas, elderberry bushes grow between 6 to 12 feet tall. White clustered flowers give way to tiny black berries that are a hit with the birds. If you can save some for yourself, elderberries are a delicious addition to drinks. It’s important to know, however, that all parts of the elderberry plant contain cyanogenic glycosides; a natural plant toxin that produces cyanide when chewed and digested. Consuming it in large amounts can result in cyanide poisoning. Elderberries should only be consumed after boiling first – a process that will destroy the glycosides. No other part of the plant (leaves, stems, or roots) should be eaten.
4 Herbs for Edible Landscaping
1. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm is an attractive ornamental that also adds fragrance to the garden. The glossy foliage smells strongly of lemons, earning the herb its name. Lemon balm can be used to repel mosquitos and other biting insects, and the leaves can be steeped into tea or used in place of lemon rind in recipes.
2. Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Perennial in USDA zones 3-7, spearmint is a very aromatic herb used to make teas, pestos, poultices, and much more. Spearmint is a vigorous grower and prone to spread, so keep the plant cut back to contain its spread or grow it in a container.
3. Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)
Sweet tooths, this one’s for you. Stevia is an easy to grow herb whose leaves are 20 times sweeter than cane sugar! The dainty white and pink flowers are adorable too. Make this your year to quit refined sugars by growing your own stevia at home.
4. Fernleaf Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Add a whimsical flair to your edible landscape with the airy fernleaf dill. This annual herb’s unmistakable aroma and tall, feathery foliage are a garden staple for all your pickling recipes. The fine, soft foliage makes a great filler for cut bouquets.
4 Annual and Perennial Edible Flowers
This article covers the most common flowers for front yard edible landscaping, but we pulled together a few more ideas for the gardener looking to grow something new.
1. Passion Flower (Passiflora species)
Passion flower is a perennial vining plant native to the Southeastern United States that thrives in zones 6-9. Vines can reach up to 15 feet (4.5 m) and are covered in fragrant, edible flowers in the summer. Passion flower gets its name from its dramatic flowers that bloom for only one day each. The orange, egg-shaped fruits have a sweet flavor and, whether or not you decide to eat them, they are very decorative when left hanging from the vine.
2. Hybrid Marigold (Tagetes hybrid)
Marigolds are miracle workers in the garden, repelling some pests, attracting pollinators, and doubling as edible flowers. Marigolds are annual plants with a long bloom season beginning in midsummer and carrying on well into the fall. The brightly colored petals make an excellent garnish for drinks, hors d’oeuvres, or salads, adding delightful notes of citrus and tarragon to the meal.
3. Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)
The pretty, sweetly-scented flowers of the carnation have tasty petals with a peppery flavor and the ability to add a burst of color to salads and desserts. Annual carnations come in shades of cream, yellow, pink, red, and purple, so there’s a variety to fit every garden theme.
4. Bachelor’s Button, Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Bachelor buttons are often found growing wild in meadows or along the roadside. The cheerful flowers have edible petals with a crisp flavor reminiscent of cucumber. Ranging in color from cream to lilac to a rosy pink, bachelor’s buttons—also called cornflowers–are known to tolerate poor soils, so they’re bound to thrive where not much else will.
4 Edible Groundcovers
1. Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana)
All pansy flowers are edible and, depending on the variety and the taste tester you’ll get reports of a green, grassy taste or minty, wintergreen flavors. Pansy faces come in a wide range of colors and sizes, so pick the variety that suits your taste! We love growing pansies as a seasonal groundcover. Pansies are annuals that thrive in cooler temperatures, putting them among the earliest plants to bloom in spring. Space plants 6-8 inches (15-20cm) to get faster coverage.
2. Garden Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
This edible ground cover is easy to grow and does well in warm, sunny climates. Purslane has succulent foliage and vibrant yellow, orange, red, and white flowers. The entirety of the purslane plant can be eaten, from the seed to the flower, and is a nutritious staple in many cultures around the world.
3. Golden Oregano ‘Aureum’ (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’)
This low-growing perennial is a fun variation of a common culinary herb. Golden oregano has bright golden foliage and edible flowers that add a kick to any dish. Keep a planting of this hardy herb close to the kitchen, so you’ll be reminded to use it often.
4. Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)
The sweet potato vine is a trailing plant most popular for its ornamental value, especially for use in pots or hanging baskets. Varieties are available with foliage in a range of colors, from bright green to deep purple. It might surprise many gardeners to know that the tubers are edible! The best-tasting potatoes will come from varieties designated as food crops, but don’t let that deter you from tasting your ornamental sweet potato vines. Cook the leaves like spinach and enjoy the tubers in your favorite sweet potato recipe!
3 Edible Grasses
1. Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus)
A must-grow for any lover of Asian cuisine, tropical lemon grass reliably overwinters in USDA zones 10-12; gardeners in colder zones can grow the plant as an annual. This fragrant grass produces scented foliage, perfect for flavoring soups and teas, and can be used fresh or dried.
2. Wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum)
A favorite for juicing due to its high nutritional content, wheatgrass is a valuable addition to any edible landscape for its lush, green foliage. Wheatgrass is safe for pets, but you may find that neighborhood bunnies and deer find it favorable as well. Harvest the young shoots between four and eight inches (10 – 20 cm) for the best results.
3. Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Native to North America, northern sea oats are a prized shade-tolerant perennial grass. Plants produce delicate arching stems with purple seedheads that dangle and flutter with the slightest breeze. The seeds can be cooked as cereal or dried and ground into flour.
4 Decorative Vegetables
1. Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
It’s hard to say what we love most about artichokes – the exotic flavor of artichoke hearts or the dramatic appearance of the bold, silvery foliage in the garden. Artichokes grow as perennials above USDA zone 8, but in colder climates mulching may help the plants overwinter. To harvest artichokes, cut the central bud when it reaches three to five inches wide (7- 12 cm).
2. Eggplant (Solanum melongena var esculentum)
Eggplants are usually thought of as purely a food crop, but they are truly one of the most beautiful vegetables. There are so many varieties of eggplant, ranging in color from alabaster to mahogany and every shade in between. Eggplants are varied in shape as well, so plant a mix of globe- and bean-shaped fruits for variety in the garden and on your plate.
3. Walking Onion (Allium × proliferum)
A cross between an onion and a shallot, walking onions have edible bulbs and a tall, top-heavy stem that bends over and touches the ground, allowing the bulbs to take root. Plant a few walking onions and watch them migrate across the garden!
4. Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris)
Swiss chard has become a popular choice for planting among flowering ornamentals. It’s bold, crinkled foliage adds great texture, and the colorful stems of many hybrid varieties offer a unique way to add long-season color. The tasty stems and leaves are a wonderful source of vitamins and minerals and they’re easy to prepare by steaming, sautéing, or adding to soups and stews. Young leaves can be eaten fresh in salads.
Edible Plants Help You get the Most Out of Your Landscape
Introducing plants that are ornamental and edible is an opportunity to create a landscape that is useful as well as beautiful. When purchasing new plants, try to find plants that were grown without the use of chemicals so they can be safely eaten early in the growing season.
The plants in this list are some of the best edible ornamentals you can use to create an attractive, edible landscape. There are many other edible plants that provide decorative value as well, so don’t be afraid to tweak this list to suit your liking. Experiment and have fun creating (and tasting) your own edible landscapes! For those who don’t have space for in-ground gardening, there are many beautiful edibles that can be grown on a sunny deck, patio or balcony. Here are 6 Beautiful Edible Plants for Containers to get you started.