Who says that edible plants exist only to be eaten? Many homegrown vegetables, fruits, and herbs serve more than one purpose: as an ornamental treasure and as a delicacy on your plate. These favorite edible plants not only taste great, but are beautiful enough to grow in your front yard. With the right care and growing conditions, these plants will be a sight to see until they're ready to harvest.
A relative of the common thistle, artichokes grow best in climates with cool, moist summers. Flower buds on sturdy stems rise above beautiful cut leaves up to 4 feet long and 5-6 feet wide. The buds are the edible part of the plant; harvest them before they open. In Zones 8-10, plants produce a main crop in spring but continue producing all season long with a secondary peak in fall. Where artichokes are grown as annuals, harvest buds from midsummer through fall.
This annual herb, a culinary favorite for Italian dishes, doesn't just come in basic green. For a change of pace, grow basil in unusual colors and shapes. You can still harvest the leaves to use fresh or dried.
'Boxwood' basil has tiny leaves on a plant that can be shaped to resemble a tiny boxwood shrub. Use it as a low edging around a bed for a formal design. 'Round Midnight' and 'Purple Ruffles' are among the many purple basil varieties. These edible plants look beautiful in beds with pink, yellow, or chartreuse companions. The variegated leaves of 'Pesto Perpetua' harmonize with almost anything in the garden, and the plant never needs deadheading because it does not bloom and go to seed. All basils grow best in full sun and well-drained soil.
Here's a shrub that can be grown in containers or in the ground, plus it offers flowers in the spring, berries in the summer, and red to orange fall color when temperatures drop. Check with a local extension service or garden expert to select the right blueberry varieties for your region. Some newer cultivars, including 'Pink Lemonade', offer mature sweet pink fruits. Varieties vary in size from 2 to 6 feet tall, so select a smaller type such as 'Top Hat' for a container. Grow them in full sun in acidic soil. Some types need a companion for cross-pollination. Cold hardiness varies tremendously, so check the rating before you buy.
Kales and cabbages provide dashes of reds, whites, greens, and pinks in chilly seasons. Design beds with rosettes of cabbages as edgings or in blocks and clusters for drama. Cabbages and red-leaf kales such as 'Redbor' combine well with other cool-season blooms, such as pinks (Dianthus). Grow these edible plants as annuals in full sun and well-drained soil.
Interplant lettuces featuring red and purple leaves with green rosette types, such as 'Buttercrunch', for a visual treat that's also good to eat. Grow lettuces in full sun to partial shade. Lettuce performs best in cool conditions, so replace it during the heat of summer with something else, or interplant with another ornamental that thrives in heat, such as Swiss chard.
For a rich source of antioxidants and other nutrients, grow chard. A rainbow of red, orange, or yellow stalks lends beauty to your garden, too. Grow chard in well-drained soil kept evenly moist. Pick the leaves while on the small side; large leaves look great but are tougher to eat. Pick just one or two leaves from each plant at a time so the plant produces more. In areas that don't freeze, Swiss chard can behave like a perennial if you cut off the bloom stalks.
Most pepper plants provide colorful fruits that dress up any garden. Many new hot pepper cultivars are especially beautiful, including award-winning 'Black Pearl' with almost black leaves and dark fruits that turn red; 'Chilly Chili' with green leaves and ivory fruits that turn red; and 'Purple Flash' with leaves in shades of purple and white that mature to rich dark purple, plus purple flowers and round black fruits. Grow in full sun.
Most ornamental plants grow best in full sun. However, if you only have partial shade, consider growing beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, and beans. Interplanted with flowers in loose designs instead of straight rows, these vegetables add beauty to a garden.