We all have our image of a vegetable garden. It typically runs true to form. Rows of plants or long raised grow beds, filled with lines of plants. What if there was another vision of a vegetable garden that ran contrary to this stereotype? What if a new concept in raising your food took a radical twist that turned your entire landscape into a source of fresh, wholesome food for you and your family. Interesting though, no?
For too long, the concepts of landscape and food stood separate in our thinking. Ask someone about their landscape, and they want to talk about their lawn, their ornamental beds, their roses or their carefully tended cut flower garden. Ask about their vegetable garden and, if they have one, they take you to a small square plot tucked in and out of the way part of the yard.
Let’s imagine a landscape in which the two comingle. A concept that satisfies that need for added curb appeal in the front and inviting leisure space in the back. A space that provides recreational and visual satisfaction and also feeds your family. I think I have piqued some interest!
But wait, you exclaim! I don’t want a bunch of tomato vines in my flowerbed and pole beans stuck in among my roses. How will I ever deal with a squash plant choking out my petunias?
I call the concept “edible ornamentals.” I am not advocating you rip out all of your roses, till up your lawn and turn your cut flower beds into row plantings of corn and beans. I would never tell you to forget about your garden plot or your raised beds. They all have their place. What I do suggest is that you rethink your landscape in terms of plants, colors, and varieties considering that so many plants are edible and beautiful.
Adding edible ornamentals to your landscape can be a challenge in West Texas. Many edible ornamentals are not too tolerant of our extremes in temperatures and winds. You must take care when designing your plantings and selecting your varieties. We have compiled a list of some edible ornamentals you can integrate into your landscaping that will bring color, varieties and new tastes.
Rainbow Swiss Chard
This leafy green comes resplendent with stalks that range from bright green to dark maroon. A variety of shades in between grace the plants as they grow and mature. Also, the leaves and stalks are one of the most nutritious greens you can add to your menu. Rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and a host of vitamins, chard is, in my opinion, one of the underrated leaf vegetables.
Chard will grow to about 24” tall and spread to about the same. Plants should be spaced about 18” apart. Rainbow chard makes an attractive border plant. It will tolerate some shade so it can be used as an understory plant beneath some trees and bushes as long as it gets 3 to 4 hours of direct sun a day. Use rainbow shard to add a splash of color among monotone ground covers along the edges of walks or paths. Chard is relatively easy to grow. It may suffer during the hottest days of summer, but if planted where it gets some shade and relief from the summer sun, it should survive through until fall. Chard is an annual.
Need a grassy look in an area? Do you need something that will soften a hard edge or maybe fill in around some larger spreading plants? Think about chives. A kitchen staple in many recipes, chives are also wonderful additions to your landscape. The flowers will range from pink to purple and are edible as well. Break them apart and sprinkle them on salads for a colorful zest.
Chives are a bunching perennial. Every four or five years you need to separate the bunches. Chives provide potassium, iron and calcium, vitamins A and C, folate, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin. As a rich source of vitamin C, chives may alleviate a stuffy nose and colds, and folk remedies recommend it for such.
Chives seem to need little care once established. They will deal well with partial shade. Used as a border plant or as lower story plant beneath bigger broader leaf plants, they should do well. West Texas summers don’t seem to bother chives to much if given a bit of protection from full day scorching sun.
Some people day rhubarb can’t be grown in West Texas, that it just won’t survive the hot, dry summers. There is some truth in this. Rhubarb doesn’t like the heat and will wilt and suffer if not properly placed and cared for during the most extreme days of heat. On the other hand, if you treat it like an annual instead of a perennial, you can grow it as an ornamental only.
Rhubarb has been lost to a lot of people as a food plant, but if you have ever eaten a made from scratch rhubarb pie, you will want it back on your list.
As an ornamental, it is a large-leafed plant best used as a backdrop along landscape structures such as fences or walls. With the huge leaves and long stalks, it creates dramatic interest when planted tightly. The stalks will turn a deep red color, and the contrast with the dark green broad leaves can be stunning as the red flashes between the leaves. Nutritionally, rhubarb is high in fiber as well as a source of protein, vitamin C, K and B Complex. The stalks are also a source of beta-carotene.
Use rhubarb along garden walls or fences with an upper story of bushes or mid-sized trees. Rhubarb needs the shade and tolerates it well, though if it doesn’t get at least 4 hours a day of sunshine, the colors on the stems may not develop.
To add an incredible “wow” factor to your landscape with an edible plant, consider amaranth. Amaranth. Technically a grain, amaranth has been harvested as a food source for thousands of years. The leaves can be used raw in salads or cooked with other foods, and the seeds can be harvested like grain and cooked much like pasta or rice. It can be used to thicken sauces and soups, even jellies.
Some varieties of Amaranth plants can grow to be six feet tall so allow plenty of height. Others will max out below that but will still require room. They are tolerant of heat and enjoy the full sun so put them where they can get their full 6 to 8 hours of direct sun. The young leaves are tender and packed with nutrition. As the plant matures the leaves broaden and thicken making a lush background along a fence or border. Use amaranth as a shield plant to provide shade and protection.
The flowers can be spectacular depending on the variety you choose. They can range from rich green to a deep scarlet and even come in blended colors. Mix several varieties along a plain wall to give an interesting visual effect.
The seeds are tiny and require some work to harvest. Succession planting will provide a continuous harvest of both young tender leaves and ripe grains over the season. In some temperate climates, Amaranth will self-seed and act almost like a perennial.
Amaranth is sure to be a conversation started in your landscape.
Often overlooked by gardeners of all sorts, artichokes are easy to grow in hot climates. They do take a lot of water but produce a stunning flower if allowed. The plant itself is visually impressive. Plants can be 3 to 4 feet tall and that broad. Best planted as an anchor plant with other plants spread around as accents. The buds are the edible part with which most of are familiar. If you leave the buds on the plant, they will eventually open to reveal exotic looking flowers.
Artichokes are a good source of potassium, Vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and fiber. The real treat in the garden is the beautiful foliage and amazing flowers. In some temperate zones, artichoke will offshoot and come back next year. In colder zones, you can dig the root and store it over winter for next years planting.
Red orach (also known as garden orach or French spinach) is a member of the amaranth family. It is popular because it is extremely heat tolerant and its deep burgundy leaves over a contrasting color to add to the landscape. The leaves are large and heart-shaped and when interplanted with varieties that have different colors of green foliage orache becomes a statement. The young leaves are delicious in salads or when cooked with other foods. Orach is an annual, but if allowed to go to seed late in the season will often return the next spring in abundance.
Orach is rich in minerals and vitamins as well as carotenes and fiber. Some nutrition writes I consider orach an undiscovered superfood.
Commonly considered a cool-season plant, red orache can be grown in partial shade. The plants will reach a height of 3 to 6 feet. Plants should be spaced app. 6 inches apart for the most dramatic effect.
These are just a few examples.
These are only a few of the options available. Time spent in a seed catalog will yield many more possibilities once you begin to look not at vegetables but edible ornamentals!
For more ideas on edible landscapes, permaculture, and food urban food forests, visit our website at www.westtexasorganicgardening.com.