As pretty as they are tasty

May 6, 2011

By Molly Lavelle

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Be bold! Be brave! Be bountiful!

Fruits, vegetables and herbs don’t have to be relegated to a rectangular bed in the backyard. Consider integrating these beautiful plants that grace us with food into your traditional landscape. Expand your edible palette with the following plants that exhibit great ornamental appeal.



Apple, pear, plum, cherry or the more exotic persimmon, quince and fig. Dwarf forms are available as well as grafted combinations. Apple, pear and fig lend themselves to espalier (trained horizontally) to grow against a fence, side of the house or a garage. Sweet bay (laurus nobilis) evergreen is a perfect accent as a small topiary tree and also as a shrub form for hedging.

Hedging and borders

Grow your own fresh, sweet blueberries (vaccinium) as an informal hedge. They are available in highbush (5-6 feet tall), semidwarf (3-4 feet tall) and also dwarf, which only grow to 18 inches tall. Blueberries produce abundantly in our climate.


Evergreen huckleberry

(vaccinum ovatum)

A delightful native with small, glossy green leaves, delicate creamy-pink flowers followed by small, sweet-tart bluish blackberries. Much overlooked as an ornamental that thrives in partial sun.


Rosemary (rosmarinus)

  • Arp — hardy to 0 degrees, growing to 3 feet tall
  • Tuscan blue — hardy to 10 degrees, growing to 5 feet tall
  • Goldust — hardy to 10 degrees, growing to 18 inches tall with soft golden-green variegation


Bold accent or architectural presence

  • Artichoke (cynara) displays stunning, deeply cut, silver-gray leaves in a large bold clump, as well as delicious edible buds.
  • Elderberry (sambucas) “black lace” has intense purple-black, finely-cut foliage and soft-pink frothy flowers followed by purple-red fruit. Let it grow into a small multitrunk tree or prune for a large striking shrub.
  • Rhubarb (rheum) has large, majestic, tropical-looking leaves with bright crimson stalks — fun to mix into a perennial shrub border.

Bronze fennel (foeniculum v. purpureum)

A favorite ornamental herb with sweet anise-tasting fronds and stronger flavored seeds is a perennial growing to 6 feet. Airy, ferny foliage emerges a bright copper then deepens to rich bronze in summer.


Vining or vertical forms

  • Perennials — train up posts, arbors, stairway railings, trellis or fencing
  • Grapes (vitus) — purple-leaved variety is gorgeous
  • Hardy kiwi (actinidia) — male and female needed
  • Hops (humulis) — The golden variety is stunning with glowing leaves and flowers like paper lanterns. Vigorous.
  • Annuals — excellent to grow up tee-pees, trellis or any unsightly object
  • Peas — sugar-snap, Oregon pod or English shelling
  • Beans — blue-lake, Kentucky or scarlet wonder with bright red flowers
  • Nasturtiums — Charming lily padlike leaves are studded with jewel-toned edible flowers.


Ground covers, rockeries and tuck-ins

Tuck in fragrant herbs to nooks and crannies. The following are particularly well suited:

Roman chamomile (anthemus nobilis)

Thyme (thymus) — lemon, silver, Doone Valley. Elfin and wooly thyme are excellent matlike growers for gaps between paving.

Oregano (oreganum vulgare) — Golden with a milder flavor or Greek, the classic Mediterranean aromatic

Yerba buena/savory(satureja) — This lovely herb thrives in shady, moist spots.

Consider also these mixers and minglers with presence.

Parsley — so fresh and ferny

Chives — to create small grassy clumps with cute-as-a-button, puffy, purple flowers that are also edible

Bloody dock/sorrel — This is a gruesome name for a spectacular, edible perennial with seersucker leaves and wine-colored veining. It will accept part sun and moist soil.

Molly Lavelle is a certified nursery professional and designer at Newcastle Fruit and Produce.

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