Edible and Ornamental!

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
colocasis ‘illustris’ and loquat in background

I still remember as a young child growing up in Miami, Florida climbing the neighbor’s loquat tree (Eriobotrya japonica) so that I could eat the orange fruits.

In my memory they were delicious and exotic. At the time I wasn’t thinking about what the tree looked like; I just enjoyed picking and eating the fruit. And while it’s too cold for this sub-tropical to produce fruit in my Atlanta garden, loquat offers handsome foliage. At the Atlanta Botanical Garden, they have it trained as an espalier and combine it with elephant ears.

vegetable garden in December with raised beds

Today in my own garden, I am drawn to plants that are ornamental and if they offer edible rewards too, like fruits or foliage, they get top consideration. I take an integrated approach when it comes to growing edibles with my ornamentals. Herbs like basil are great for edging the flower border and require a minimum of care.  Parsley, both the flat leaf and curly, are essential to have on hand for cooking and look good for months in the garden, mixed in with edible pansies, lettuces, or as a groundcover for roses. (I don’t spray my roses so it’s safe to eat the parsley).   Rosemary, another favorite for cooking, makes a lovely and fragrant evergreen shrub in my perennial garden.   

dwarf peach ‘Bonanza’

As for trees with edible fruit, my pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Wonderful,’ offers handsome foliage, bright orange flowers and tasty fruits. While I haven’t grown one yet, I am tempted by the dwarf peach ‘Bonanza’ which only reaches 6’ tall and is reported to produce an abundance of sweet peaches.  I haven’t tasted them but the flowers are stunning. Other fruiting trees that are also ornamental include crabapples like ‘Callaway’ pictured here and underplanted with muhly grass (not edible). Fig trees have always appealed to me with their distinct leaves, and the fresh fruit is great for eating right off the tree or for using in preserves.  Espaliered fruit trees add structure no matter what the season and are a great way to make the most of small gardens with limited space. 

Malus ‘Callaway’ with Muhly grass

For dramatic flowers and foliage, artichokes or cardoon make interesting companions in the perennial or vegetable garden. While artichokes are grown for their fruits, cardoon is grown for its striking foliage which is also edible.   

artichoke

I love all types of vegetables but was not a big fan of okra until I saw ‘Hill Country Red,’ an heirloom variety from Texas, an attractive five foot tall annual with yellow flowers, that are followed by large green fruits tinted red.     

okra ‘Hill Country Red’

Blueberries and berries in general are touted for their great health benefits as antioxidants. Fortunately, they are easy to cultivate. In my southern garden I grow six different varieties of the native rabbiteyes, Vaccinium ashei, including ‘Austin,’ ‘Climax,’ ‘Delite,’ ‘Powder Blue,’ ‘Premeir,’ and ‘Tift Blue,’ a mixture of early, midseason and late fruiting types. So far, my biggest challenge has been the birds which almost always get the fruits before I do. I will try a different type of netting this year and hope for better results. Beyond their tasty fruits, blueberries are a handsome shrub that can make a great hedge. The flowers are small but the foliage is attractive in spring and summer. In autumn the leaves turn shades of orange and red, adding to their appeal.