By: Mike Darcy
As I visit gardens, it is a delight to see more and more gardeners incorporating edible plants into their landscape. It has not been that many years ago that vegetables, fruits, berries, and herbs would be grown in their own separate garden spots. In many cases, they would be away from the ornamental plantings around the house. That is not so today, with gardeners being very creative in using edible plants, whether planted in the landscape or in containers.
I think that one of the first edibles to incorporate into the ornamental garden are blueberries (Vaccinium spp.). Since the blueberry is a shrub, this is an easy incorporation. Here in the Pacific Northwest, many gardens have blueberry plants mixed in and among ornamentals, and with good reason. The blueberry is a natural in the ornamental garden because in the early spring there are clusters of creamy white flowers, followed by blueberries and, depending on the variety, the harvest season can extend from June through August. If that is not enough, in the fall, they have exceptional fall color with leaves turning shades of yellow and red. Blueberry plants like acidic soil rich in humus, and Black Gold Garden Compost Blend or Black Gold Peat Moss are ideal amendments to add at time of planting or to use as a top dressing around the plants. Blueberries have shallow roots and the addition of compost around the base of the plant will help keep the roots moist in the summer. Plant at least two shrubs for good fruiting, ‘Bluejay’ and ‘Duke’ are good selections.
Often when we think of hanging baskets, we think of flowers, but consider everbearing strawberries (Fragaria anassa) as an alternative. The plants will fill the basket, and the runners will trail down over the sides. Select a variety such as ‘Quinault’ or ‘Seascape’ that will produce berries over a long period of time. Hanging baskets tend to dry out quickly on hot summer days and Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix is specially formulated to retain moisture.
Ornamental Fruit Trees
While most city lots cannot accommodate standard size fruit trees, some innovative gardeners have learned to espalier dwarf fruit trees. In a very limited space, you can grow apples, pears, peaches, and plums. Training a fruit tree on to a wire support system is not difficult, but it does require regular pruning and training to keep the branches flat along the wire. The limiting factor for some gardens would be sunlight, and for fruit trees to thrive, they should have at least six hours of sunlight; more would be preferable.
Pretty and delicious greens are some of the easiest ornamental edible to incorporate into the garden. Plant pretty pots of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) for a colorful and delicious change to bedding flowers. Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ssp. cicla) and attractive kales will also add big foliar interest to gardens and landscapes. Try the fantastically pretty blue-green dinosaur kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Lacinato’) or silvery cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) to make a bold garden statement. Pretty herbs, like lavender-flowered chives (Allium schoenoprasum), also make a great floral and foliar addition to gardens.
Growing squash and cucumbers vertically is something I am seeing in gardens both in the ground and in containers. Bush squash or cucumbers are always the best for smaller garden spaces or pots. The pretty pattypan squash ‘Sunburst’ has bold leaves and delicious yellow fruit. If you want a potted cucumber, try the small, pretty ‘Salad Bush’. Its small cucumbers are crisp and delicious.
For vining squash, choose summer squash, which can be easily trained to grow on a trellis. If growing squash or cucumbers in a container, use Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix for optimum results. Summer squash can be quite decorative on a deck or patio with fruits of various shades of green and yellow. The long-vined (15 foot) tromboncino squash (Cucurbita moschata ‘Tromba d’Albenga’) is grown for its long fruit, which can reach 3 feet or more. Let the squash grow vertically on a trellis, and plant herbs or edible flowers around the base, like pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) or basil (Ocimum basilicum).
Some gardeners are making their raised vegetable beds as a focal point of the garden. Raised beds do not have to be square or rectangle but can be cut to reflect different angles.
The possibilities of an ornamental, edible garden or landscape are endless. Do some experimenting, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to have a pretty edible garden providing good looks and fresh produce throughout the summer.
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