Most gardeners view vegetables and flowers as two clearly-defined groups of plants. Vegetables go in the vegetable patch, well out of sight of your house. The flowers go in the main garden, where their colourful blooms can be admired by everyone. But not all vegetables lack aesthetic appeal.
When you choose the right varieties, it’s entirely possible to grow vegetables alongside your flowers. In doing so you can increase your food production without reducing the visual impact of your garden. These good-looking vegetables are also ideal for those with smaller gardens, where having a separate vegetable plot simply isn’t a possibility.
Here are the best ornamental vegetables that look as good as they taste…
With their deep leathery green leaves and bright red stalks, beetroot can make surprisingly-attractive bedding.
It’s also super-simple to grow. Simply prepare the soil, scatter some seeds, rake them in and then water well. All too soon you’ll see those luxurious red and green leaves starting to appear.
Why not grow them as ground cover, carefully thinning out the seedlings over time. The young plants can be used in salads, while thinning the youngsters will give more space for the remaining plants to fruit.
A sturdy climber, borlotti beans like some support, so grow them against a fence, or rambling up other tall plants like sunflowers. In time, they’ll start to flower, and soon afterwards you’ll be rewarded with a multitude of of attractive pink and white bean pods.
Either leave them on the plants to enjoy their colours, or pick the pods regularly to savour the juicy beans. These are vigorous plants, so normally picking pods will result in more being produced, meaning that borlotti beans can make an attractive display over a long period of time.
Globe artichokes are perennial crops, that will come back year after year. With their large dimensions and regal, sculptural form, they can work very well indeed in flower beds. Their thistle-like head is the main event however; harvest it and enjoy the luxury of a fresh artichoke heart without the eye-watering supermarket prices.
Purple kale has surprisingly attractive leaves. A rich, vibrant deep red or purple, with intricate edging, kale can work very well as a foliage plant. I have even seen them planted in formal bedding arrangements in the past, where it is difficult to believe that such a fascinating-looking plant can also be so full of flavour and goodness.
Both sweet and chilli peppers can make attractive border plants. While the leaves themselves may not necessarily be too much to look at, watching those little red fruits growing can look wonderful in the garden, especially if surrounded by other red flowers.
For the most visually-appealing display consider either one of the “baby” varieties, which produces tiny fruits in profusion, or go all-out and try one of the giant “bulls horn” varieties, whose sweet fruits can grow to 20-30cm long in a good year.
Like kale, red cabbages can also be used as attractive bedding plants. Their reddish/purple leaves seem to glow on sunny days, and as the gardening season comes to an end you can harvest your cabbages for pickling.
Rainbow chard tends to come in two different colour forms; that with a red stem and that with a yellow. A typical pack of seeds will produce both types, with these colourful stems contrasting richly against one another.
Chard can be surprisingly hardy, surviving snow and ice in winter, before laying down seeds in their second year. Just before they do this, the plants take on a sudden growth spurt, and can reach a metre or more in height.
Admittedly not a “colourful” vegetable, the unusual pyramidal shape of their fruiting heads can still add a huge amount of sculptural appeal when planted in flower beds.
Whether it’s pumpkins or butternut squash, this family seems to offer a number of distinct benefits to the gardener. Firstly, their big, exotic-looking showy leaves look great in the flower border.
Secondly, their large size and rambling nature means they make great ground cover plants, cutting down on your weeding.
Lastly, of course, squashes produce their beautiful (and often brightly coloured) fruit, which help add even more interest to your garden.
A standard tomato plant may not be everyone’s first choice for a border plant, but the smaller cherry tomato varieties can produce an amazing array of fruits over a very long period of time.
And while most tomatoes may be a deep reddish orange when ripe, there are other tomatoes which offer far more visual interest. From yellows and oranges, through the stripes of green, the tomato family offers something for everyone, no matter what your tastes may be.
Images c/o Rebecca Winzenried