Pretty Enough to Eat: Planting Edible Ornamentals in the Garden

November 20, 2019

pretty enough to eat

Planting Edible Ornamentals in the Garden


Oil and water may not mix in the kitchen, but edible and ornamental plants do mix well in the garden. You have the potential of growing your own food while simultaneously creating beautiful ornamental plantings. Here are some combinations to get you started.


Instead of edging a border with a low-growing flower or shrub, consider planting lettuces, potatoes, parsley, peanuts, chilies, or peppers. Chives are a tasty garnish that produces the prettiest edible flowers in late spring.


Herbs are beloved for their culinary importance, but the ornamental aspects of herbs are too often ignored. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, and chamomile are easy to tuck into your garden beds and borders. A prime candidate for a sunny flower bed is anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculm). An upright plant that can reach five feet tall, it produces showy spires of violet flowers in late summer. Use the flowers to flavor ice tea, sugar, and honey. Add 2 tablespoons to butter cookie dough to impart a light anise flavor.

Sage is an excellent, hardy garden perennial. Wrinkled, gray-green leaves add interesting texture to a design and are strongly aromatic. Some varieties have colored foliage. Tricolor sage has dark-green leaves edged with creamy white and pink, and Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ leaves are tinged with purple. Watch for sage to flower in early summer with tall spikes of blue blossoms.


Instead of growing crabapples, ornamental pears, and other nonproducing trees, plant fruit-bearing trees such as plum, apricots, nectarines, peaches, pears, and apples. They have threeseason interest, beginning with their frothy spring flowers, followed by ripening fruit, and a colorful fall display.

Blueberries are a beautiful, often overlooked ornamental and edible plant for the garden. As Brie Arthur writes in The Foodscaping Revolution, “They add tons of aesthetic beauty to every landscape. White flowers in spring attract beneficial pollinators, followed by the delicious fruits of the summer, while the brilliant red fall color is a feature . . . .” Use them as a screen, hedge, or foundation plant. Dwarf varieties are ideal for small gardens and patio containers. Choose the right variety for your climate and region. Because blueberries do not self-pollinate, you need at least two varieties to form fruit; select varieties that bloom at the same time to ensure cross-pollination.


Wherever you live, an outdoor garden is bound to attract pests that are ready for a snack. Thankfully, some ornamental edibles pull double duty as the pest control squad.

Large patches of mint and lavender and their fragrance (or odor) will deter deer. Any plant from the allium family, including garlic, onion, and chives, will repel cabbage worms, Japanese beetles, carrot rust flies, slugs, and other bugs. An attractive allium border will keep voles out of the beds. Fend off snails with fennel, a natural repellent that also has many uses in the kitchen and looks pretty in the garden with its lacy foliage. Grow this tall plant in the middle or back of a border.


Photography by (clockwise from top left) nzfhatipoglu/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Andreas-Semerad/iStock/Getty Images Plus, aimintang/E+/Getty Images, Stieglitz/E+/Getty Images.

The distinctive aroma of lemongrass, lavender, marigolds, and basil, each edible and ornamental, detract thrips, mosquitos, and flies. Add marigold flowers to a salad for a pretty presentation and a piquant citrusy taste. Make lavender ice cream, sorbet, cookies, or lemonade to add an aromatic flavor. Basil improves the flavor of tomatoes both in the garden and on the plate.

Borage, with its lovely sky-blue flower, repels tomato hornworms and cabbage worms and attracts beneficial bees and wasps. As a bonus, it also adds trace nutrient elements to the soil. It is a self-sowing annual; once it’s established in your garden, it will appear every year with no work required of you. You can have your beautiful ornamental garden and eat it too.

books to inspire & inform

The Foodscape Revolution: Finding a Better Way to Make Space for Food and Beauty in Your Garden by Brie Arthur
Arthur’s groundbreaking book surprises readers with recommendations for adding grains such as barley, wheat, and oats to flower beds (these grains are unexpectedly beautiful), and for using plants such as garlic to deter pests.
The Beautiful Edible Garden: Design a Stylish Outdoor Space Using Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs by Leslie Bennett
This illustrated guide shows readers how to incorporate vegetables, fruits, and herbs into a garden to make it a place of year-round beauty as well as a source for organic food.
Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy
Creasy shows how ornamental and edible plants can play nicely together, each contributing beauty to the landscape. Originally published in 1982, this latest edition includes new designs and ideas and features 300 inspiring color photographs.