Saturday, May 7, 2011

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Edible

I realize it's sacrilege in certain parts of the gardening community, but I've never been much of a food gardener. It seems that in recent years, when you identify yourself as a gardener, other gardeners immediately want to know what heirloom tomatoes you're starting from seed this year. The grow-your-own movement has taken a life of its own as the recession coincides with a general distrust of the increasingly corporate control of the food system.

But despite my general agreement with the grow-your-own philosophy, I've never gotten over what is essentially a problem of garden vanity. Garden aesthetics are extremely important to me, and -- to my eye -- most food crops are ugly. So for the 11 years that we've lived in our home, food production has been relegated to growing tomatoes, peas and peppers in raised beds I built in a 16'x24' back corner of the yard. I tend to tolerate this area as a less-than-attractive necessity in order to have some fresh veggies during the summer.

As my ornamental garden has evolved over the rest of the property, this little rectangle of a home farm has become more problematic in the overall design of the landscape. So I've started to think of ways to incorporate edible crops directly into the ornamental garden, with the goal of someday removing the separation completely. I've seen great examples like Shawna Coronado's front-yard vegetable garden, but I'm not quite ready to jump into this edibles as ornamentals foray headfirst and blindfolded.

So I'm starting small, but front and center. I've added a blueberry bush (Vaccinium corymbosum 'Northland') to one of our front porch containers. Combined with two hosta and blue-eyed grass, I'm hoping this small shrub will serve as an attractive accent for the entrance of our home. Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits, and if we get even a small crop, I'll be pleased.

When I first planted the blueberry, I was skeptical about its ability to be a strong container plant -- the "thriller" in the plant combination. But as it has leafed out, I'm pleased with the color and texture it's providing in contrast with the hosta. After a rainstorm this morning, the water droplets held onto the leaves nicely.

The pink-tinged flower buds have started to form and are quite appealing in their own right.

I was afraid I'd be wanting to put the blueberry a back corner away from view by now, but it's been quite the opposite experience. Now when I walk through the garden center, I can almost hear the other food crops whispering to me, "Don't hate me because I'm edible."

What other food crops would you recommend for someone like me who is concerned as much with appearance as actual food production?

3 comments:

  1. Artichokes -- if they are hardy for you. I grow them as annuals just for the foliage, even though they never actually produce for me. Also, scarlet runner bean. Great flowers, that hummingbirds love, followed by pretty darn good green beans!

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  2. Here's an added benefit--come fall, you will be stunned by the gorgeous red foliage!:)

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  3. Some herbs that can be used easily ornamentally are cut leaf parsley for texture and several types of Oregano (trailing habit in containers, yellow-ish foliage). Some of the variegated or purple sage could work too. I guess herbs are easier than veggies to use ornamentally. (I'll second Anne's comment about the fall colour, worth growing for that alone with the fruit as a bonus)

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