Nine Great Vegetables and Herbs for the Flower Garden

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“Vegetables that can look as beautiful as my flowers? Are you sure? I have my doubts.” That’s essentially the conversation I had recently with a new flower-gardening friend. She had never grown vegetables before and wasn’t about to start. “Why?” I asked. Because veggies aren’t pretty. She didn’t say it that way exactly, but that was her take on the matter.

I think a well-tended vegetable garden is a thing of beauty. By the end of the season, however, it comes to look more like my Dad’s workshop, with boards and tools and sawdust littering every surface. It becomes functional as the harvest (and my patience) comes to a close. This, I think, is what she’s imagining will happen if she grows a vegetable garden. And I get it. It’s not the look she wants.

But there are so many beautiful vegetables and herbs that can accentuate the inherent beauty of to a flower garden, whether that garden is a planting bed or a conglomeration of containers on a deck or patio. Here are my top picks for crops to incorporate into an otherwise floral-only garden:

  1. Swiss Chard, especially Bright Lights. All Swiss Chard leaves are some shade of shiny green—which is beautiful in its own right—but the stems of Bright Lights come in a rainbow of colors. It’s usually a nice mix of reds, pinks, yellows, oranges and whites. Lovely color added to a lower level of the garden where flowers don’t frequently occur.
  2. Variegated Sage. Sage green is all the rage on the color palette, but add some whitish coloration to the leaves and that plant really pops. The leaves’ texture adds to the visual, too, to a mixed container of herbs and potted flowers.
  3. Table top-sized tomatoes. Tomatoes come as short and compact as a table lamp, did you know? These short squat tomato-green plants add pops of red with delicious fruit. Look for varieties such as Tiny Tim, Heartbreakers and Ponchi. Great for adding to a grouping of containers on a deck.
  4. Artichokes. While I’ve never grown artichokes myself, I’ve seen them in a mixed bed with flowers and the texture and shape of these leaves adds so much to a flower garden. And then the globe-shaped bud comes along!
  5. Rhubarb. Big leaves, bright stems and a size that can provide a nice foil for colorful flowers.
  6. Strawberries. In baskets and strawberry pots, strawberries now come in several different flower colors for spring, and then add juicy red coloring soon after.
  7. Basil. From the green of Genovese to the dark purples and nearly blacks of Thai, basil adds color, texture and fragrance that complements any planting.
  8. Fennel and Dill. I include both under the same listing mainly because of their common frilliness. It’s not about color as much as it is about texture and drama.
  9. Kale. Color, texture, structure—kale has it all. What I love about it is there are so many different varieties of kale, from frilly to flat leaves, light green to dark purple, large shapes to small. Even if you don’t like to eat kale, there’s so much it brings to a garden visually.

As you pot up your container gardens this spring, don’t bypass the offerings in your garden center’s vegetable department!

Meet Ellen Wells

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