A Plentiful Pairing

from Caroline Broder

Incorporating edible plant species into a garden doesn’t have to be black and white, in fact it ought to be quite colorful. Despite popular belief, there can be more to an edible garden than a simplistic linear design consisting of vegetables planted in elongated rows. The secret to a bountiful yield and a reduced grocery bill is to, quite literally, design outside the lines. schiff veggiesFrom a conceptual standpoint, an edible garden ought to be organized like any other garden populated with non-utilitarian flowers. In fact, you ought to integrate flowers with vegetables. It is important to establish a sense of place, and match its functionality with its beauty. It doesn’t take much to convince even the most novice gardener that blending flowers with edibles can result in an even more aesthetically pleasing space than initially imagined, however, there is more to this method than meets the eye.

Technically speaking, by adding flowers you not only promote production but you minimize pest damage organically as well, since some of the most beneficial insects (bees and butterflies) need pollen and nectar during some point in their life cycle to reproduce. In addition, by combining contrasting textures and camouflaging odors, undesirable critters are confused and kept at bay. Several great examples of flowers that help control pests include alyssum, marigolds, echinacea, and coreopsis.

This not so new age method of gardening is significant to those who live in an urban environment and elsewhere. Regardless of where you live, the underlying intention of anyone experimenting with growing edibles is to maximize one’s harvest by exceeding the potential of your plot. The ancient Persians and Egyptians first implemented the integration of edibles and ornamentals by planting them together in spaces conveniently located to their living quarters. It wasn’t until the Renaissance when the two types of gardens were separated as a public display of wealth. Flower beds framed homes in high profile spaces, while le potager, or vegetable garden was often hidden out of sight for its lack of showy blooms and subtle fragrances. ‘Tis no longer the season to settle on this traditional execution of planting.

Edible landscaping presents an opportunity to express yourself. After choosing your favorite plant species and taking their growing requirements into consideration, it’s up to your imagination to create a dynamic space. Herbs, such as dill, can be mixed with fine ornamental grasses within a flower bed border, while apple or fig trees can be espaliered and thoughtfully planted to accentuate a perennial border. With its distinct ruffled leaves, kale is also a noteworthy edible species to consider as it can provide structure to your design. A blended garden where flowers are growing with food results in both beauty and bounty. As the English poet and designer William Morris once said about your house, “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” applies just as accurately to your garden.

(References include opinions and observations from designers Erica Shaffer, Margie Grace, Ros Creasy)