Creating edible landscaping and planting edimental plants where you live is a way to make sure you can have the best of both worlds – a productive and beautiful garden. You definitely do not have to choose between an edible garden or an ornamental one. By choosing edible and ornamental plants for your space, you can have both. Here are my favourite ornamental and edible plants for your edimental garden.
What are ‘Edimental Plants’?
Edimental plants are plants that provide both an edible yield and ornamental appeal. The plants that can provide both of these things are of course many and varied.
The plants that are both edible and ornamental can belong in a couple of different groups. They can be plants typically considered as edible crops, which happen also to have ornamental appeal. Or they can be plants typically considered to be ornamental that also have edible uses.
In the right context, most plants commonly grown as edible crops might be considered to have ornamental appeal. Often, aesthetic appeal is not about the plants themselves but about how we combine the different plants that we grow and where precisely we grow them.
Many are surprised by the number of plants commonly grown as ornamentals that also have edible uses. Many of the plants that grow in gardens have parts that be eaten, making them useful as well as beautiful. The list of edible flowers that you might grow in your garden is a long one.
Even many plants commonly considered garden weeds are actually edimental plants that are both pretty and useful to us.
Why Grow Edimental Plants
In our gardens, we should always aim to make the most of our space. However we like to use our space, that generally involves both obtaining a yield from the area, and making it a wonderful, attractive place where we want to spend our time.
Edimental plants, by giving both food and aesthetic pleasure, help us to achieve our dual aims for the space.
In a sustainable and eco-friendly garden, we should always aim to make sure that each element and plant we include fulfils as many different functions as possible, and than we have built-in redundancy, with multiple elements/plants to fulfil each function.
Edimental plants do more than one thing for us, and therefore help us to meet the goal above.
It is also important in any garden to consider how we can integrate rather than segregate. In bringing different types of plant together, creating polycultures with edible and ornamental species, we can gain benefits, since the systems we create can become more than the sum of their parts.
Where to Grow Edimental Plants
Growing edimental plants in your garden definitely does not just involve making lists of attractive plants that you can eat. It is about thinking holistically, and coming up with plans that work for you, and your particular garden.
Creating a garden that is both productive and looks good is easier than you might think, but the choices you make about your growing methods, garden layout etc. will determine how successful your efforts will be.
First things first, you need to consider edimental plants in context, making sure that they make good companions for their neighbours.
You need to think about sunshine and shade, wind, water and soil, and make sure that you match up the needs of specific plants to the conditions that can be provided for them within the space. In other words, you need to choose the right edimental plants for the right places.
This might sound very obvious but edimental plants being positioned incorrectly, in less than optimal conditions, is a common reason for things going wrong and is an incredibly common type of mistake made by many less experienced gardeners.
As long as you understand the conditions required by a particular edimental plant, and position it somewhere that provides the conditions it requires, they you can utilise edible and ornamental plants in a wide range of different ways.
For example, you can use edimental plants:
- To create a beautiful polyculture annual vegetable garden.
- For forest gardens/ food forests, and other diverse perennial planting schemes.
- In your garden borders, to enhance flowering displays while also producing a yield.
- In your ‘wild’ and wildlife-friendly ‘lawn’ or meadow area.
- Alongside and even in your pathways.
- Against walls and fences (as climbers, and in vertical garden structures or hanging planters).
- In and around a wildlife-friendly garden pond.
These are just some suggestions to help you see the varied ways in which different edimental plants can be integrated into garden design. Just remember that you need to choose the right plants for each different area.
Edimental Flowering Plants
When most people think of ornamental plants, they think of flowers. Flowers are of course the key attractive feature for many plants. They not only attract us with their beautiful blooms. They also attract a range of beneficial insects and other pollinators to your garden.
If you are looking for edimental plants to include in your garden design then flowering species are a good place to start. Remember, these might be herbaceous plants, but you might also incorporate trees and shrubs with beautiful blossom into your designs.
If you want a garden to look good and be productive throughout as much of the year as possible then it is important to plant species that bloom over as much of the year as possible. There is a huge selection of flowering plants of one kind or another that also provide some sort of food.
Be sure to consider, for example:
- Trees with beautiful blossom and edible fruit. (Cherry, plum or apple trees, for example.)
- Shrubs with attractive blooms and edible yields. (Elderberry and hawthorn, for example.)
- Perennial herbs (e.g. lavender, thyme, hyssop, chives and other alliums, and many other attractive flowering herbs for different settings…)
- Edible flowers commonly grown as ornamental plants. (Nasturtiums, pansies and violas, borage etc, etc…)
- Attractive, edible flowers often considered to be weeds. (Dandelions, chickweed, etc…)
Remember however, that aesthetic appeal does not have to come from flowers. Though flowers do often provide visual and olfactory appeal, there are other ways that edible plants can be attractive.
Edimental Plants With Attractive Foliage
Some edimental plants, for example, might not be selected for their attractive blooms but rather for their foliage. That foliage might look good all year, or take on attractive hues, perhaps, early in the spring, and/or in the autumn months as it alters in colour.
A number of trees and shrubs might offer gardeners with edible yields and attractive foliage.
Sometimes, we might prize an evergreen which offers green foliage year-round. And there are several evergreens to consider with edible yields, including for example the strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, or the olive tree, Ulex europaea.
Sometimes we might look for trees or shrubs which are deciduous, but have good leaf colour before the leaves fall for the winter. Some cherry trees, and serviceberry (Amelanchier) are among those which are visually appealing in the autumn months.
Smaller, herbaceous species can also have attractive foliage either year round or during a particular season.
One foliage plant that offers great edible potential as well as looking good, to name one example, is the hosta.
All hostas are edible and they make a marvellous perennial vegetable as well as an ornamental foliage plant for shade.
Certain ferns are also edible and also make a good, attractive foliage plant for a shaded spot.
Edimental Plants for Garden Structure
As well as thinking about flowering plants and foliage plants for different parts of an edimental garden, it can also be useful to think about plants that will add height, drama and structure within the space.
For example, gardeners might also consider adding these types of edimental plants for structure in the garden:
- Fruit trees, perhaps trained into specific shapes such as fans, cordons etc…
- Trees with attractive weeping forms (e.g. Siberian pea or Tilia lime trees… to name two edible examples.)
- Berry bushes that look good throughout much of the year, with flowers in the spring and sometimes autumn colour, and which add height and structure in a border, as well as producing berries in summer. Berries can also be trained into fans or cordons in more formal spaces.
- Climbers and vines such as grapes, passionfruit, kiwi, or hops, to name a few examples.
Of course, these examples are just the beginning – there are so many more edimental plants that you might choose from.
As whenever we are talking about aesthetics, the plants we consider to be attractive can be subjective. The goal in an edimental garden is simply to choose plants that you enjoy, like the look of, and like to eat.
Finding edimental plants is very easy and most will have a very long list. It is combining those plants correctly, and placing them within a holistic design that can be more challenging. But that is also where the real fun can begin.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.