Containers of veggies and flowering herbs can dress up a patio. Arbors, walls and terraces can be adorned with grape and kiwi vines. Portions of lawn can be planted with low growing strawberry plants. Barren ornamental trees can be replaced with fruit trees; even small dwarf trees bear full size fruit. And don’t forget edible flowers and herbs that add color and new flavors to salads and garnishes.
Planting flowers among fruits and vegetables is a time honored method of pest control. Marigold repels tomato worms. Artemisia repels unwanted pests and attracts some beneficial insects. Nasturtium repels aphids and white flies. Geranium, basil, coriander, lavender, the list goes on. We don’t make enough use of natural pairings of flowers and edibles as they grow and protect each other.
Artichokes, asparagus, basil, beans, beets, broccoli, corn, lettuce, parsley, peppers, scallions, sprouts, tomatoes and zucchini are just some of the options to consider amid flower gardens. Lettuce and other greens like arugula are lovely, grow quickly and come in many varieties, many colors. Interplant them with quick-growing annuals and add some low growing radishes which have nice green tops as well. Avoid families of plants that roam and take over a lot of space like squashes and melons. On the other hand, corn needs some room but can provide an interesting backdrop to lower plantings.
Adding herbs to your landscape makes good economic sense as well as contributing beauty. Rosemary, sages, thymes, savory, basils and oregano all blend in well with flowering perennials in the garden. And in the salad bowl the blossoms of basil, chive, dill, fennel and arugula add aromatic flavor and bursts of color.
Once your salad has been tossed with dressing, pick off petals from edible flowers and toss them on top. Many flowers have a strong flavor, so use a light hand when adding them to your greens. Nasturtium is available in a range of colors, and both flowers and leaves add a peppery flavor to mixed greens. Calendula is a prolific grower, and its edible blossoms grow abundantly. Delicately flavored violas jazz up a bowl of varietal greens like nothing else. Intense blue star shaped borage flowers add a burst of color that contrasts nicely with greens. The flower’s delicate flavor tastes similar to cucumber. Separate the flower from the stem for a softer texture.
Blueberries, currants and elderberries are attractive shrubs in their own right, with pretty blossoms in spring and a colorful fall show. Raspberries and blackberries reliably produce loads of fruit for years with minimal care. All they need is a sunny spot with well-drained soil, some basic pruning in winter, and a coat of compost over their beds in spring. Low-growing, spreading strawberries make an attractive groundcover in sunny spots. Beautiful edibles such as apples, almonds, plums, persimmons and cherries, just to mention a few, have long been overlooked in favor of flowering crabs, dogwoods, and forsythia. Use dwarf fruit trees to produce more fruit from a limited area; the trees are dwarf, but the fruit is full size.
On the practical side, how much time do you want to spend raising more food? The more food the more time for soil preparation, weed pulling, tying vines and supporting plants, watering, harvesting and pest control. A little bit more work than growing flowers, but a much larger return. Not only will your landscape look good enough to eat….. it will be.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.