Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Incorporating Edibles

– Posted in: Garden Design

Red lettuce and golden oregano

Flowers may feed the soul, but sooner or later, the body has to eat too. It’s great if you can score most of your food locally, and even better if it’s organically grown, but the ultimate in freshness and flavor has to be from edibles picked from your very own garden. There are all kinds of ways to work veggies, herbs, and fruiting plants into your yard: by creating a separate vegetable garden, herb garden, or orchard that’s designed purely for production, for instance; by organizing your edibles into a handy-for-harvest kitchen garden; or by blending them into your ornamental beds and borders for casual grazing.

I’ve ended up using all three of those approaches in my own garden. Out back, in what I call “The Orchard Garden,” is a variety of fruting plants, including a ‘Methley’ plum, a ‘Surefire’ cherry, and my treasured four-in-one Asian pear tree.

I also have a quince, just because it’s a pretty tree (making jelly from anything is definitely not on my to-do list), and a medlar, because the clinging fruits look so neat in winter.

I’ve also added thornless ‘Chester’ blackberries (thornless is great, flavor is just okay); red ‘Caroline’ and yellow ‘Anne’ raspberries (‘Anne’ is fantastic); and everbearing ‘Tristar’ strawberries and ‘Yellow Wonder’ alpine strawberries (both are a treat to pick all summer).

I love gooseberries too, though I’m still not adept at judging when they’re perfect for picking, and they don’t seem to like our summer heat much. Pearly white ‘Primus’ is one of my favorite currants for good flavor…

…and the jewel-like red fuits of ‘Jonkheer Van Tets’ are so gorgeous that they certainly qualify as ornamental. Here, too, I’m learning to leave them on the plant for a few weeks after they turn red, so they have a chance to sweeten. It’s hard to wait, though.

Sounds like a lot of fruit, I guess, but it’s well spread out from June through October. So, I can find a handful or two or one thing or another to snack on most days during the growing season, but there’s usually not enough to have to think about bringing the excess indoors and preparing it for storage.

The orchard area also has beds for some larger veggies, such as vining squash, rutabagas, parsnips, and bush beans. Then there’s the kitchen garden right off the back porch, for salad greens, onions, herbs, and other veggies that benefit from some extra attention to weeding, watering, and pest control.

This wonderful old washtub I found in my parents’ barn is one of my favorite features in the kitchen garden.

Sometimes I use it for arugula and other early greens to keep them out of reach of slugs. But it also makes a great container for creeping mints, such as variegated peppermint…

…and pineapple mint.

My favorite way to grow edibles, though, is using them for their ornamental qualities first, then grazing on them every now and then, or just enjoying their good looks. Rhubarb, for instance, is awesome for bold foliage until midsummer, at least.


Plenty of herbs are just as attractive as they are flavorful. ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ basil is a winner for its variegated foliage, great fragrance, and distinctly upright habit.

‘Berggarten’ sage, too, is superb for foliage interest, with broad, bright silver-gray leaves that are richly aromatic. (If it didn’t have an annoying habit of sometimes dying suddenly, it would be one of my top-10 plants for sure.)

As for great-looking veggies – well, there’s an abundance of options: colored-stem Swiss chards, such as this ‘Bright Lights’ seedling…



…luscious lettuces, such as ‘Really Red Deer Tongue’ (in the foreground) and ‘Mascara’ (behind ‘RRDT’)…

…’Violetta’ pak choi…

…colorful orachs (Atriplex hortensis), such as ‘Rubra’ (left) and ‘Magenta Magic’ (right)…

and ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets.

One more honorable mention as double-duty veg: ‘Eight Ball’ (dark green) and ‘One Ball’ (yellow) bush zucchini. They’re prolific, like all zucchini, but if you leave the unneeded, harvested fruits sitting outdoors for a few weeks or months, they’ll turn color and make fun mini-pumpkin or gourd look-alikes by the end of the season. In the photo below are two mature ‘One Ball’ fuits on either side, a striped ‘Eight Ball’ at back, and a speckled ‘Carnival’ squash’ (another winner for taste and looks) in front.

Okay, that’s more than enough from me. Now it’s your turn to share how you enjoy growing edibles in your own garden. We could all use more ideas on how to make a vegetable garden look great, or how to incorporate edible fruits into our landscapes, or how to make a feature from container-grown veggies. Herb gardens, planters, and ornamental plantings that include edible herbs count too!

If you’re new to the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop, here’s how it works: Write a post on anything related to incorportaing edibles into the garden on your own blog and leave a link here (already-archived posts count too), or jot down your thoughts in a comment below. At the end of the month, I’ll gather all of the links into one summary post for easy reference. If you’re interested in checking out previous GBD Workshops, you can find them here:

Paths and Walkways
Fences and Walls
Arbors and Pergolas
Color in the Garden
Container Plantings
Front-Yard Gardens
Stone in the Garden
Decks, Porches, and Patios
Garden Whimsy
Trellises and Screens
Water in the Garden
Sheds and Outbuildings

One final note: This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop. Many, many thanks to all of you who have participated, by reading or posting, or both!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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12 comments… add one

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Lisa at Greenbow November 1, 2008, 6:38 am

Your garden always looks good enough to eat Nan. The gooseberries are something I would love to grow. Yummmmm.

When they are actually ripe, they are delicious. It’s not so hard to tell with the red ones, but the green ones are tricky (for me, anyway). It seems if I wait until they are perfect, then they’re about ready to drop off, and I lose many of them. But I’ll keep trying!

Helen/patientgardener November 1, 2008, 8:13 am

I love the way you use edibles in your garden. I’m trying to do this but not really achieved it yet. I wont be doing a post on this as I dont have any photos of what I have done in the past and everything is quiet at the moment in the garden.

You’re participating just by reading and commenting, Helen. Hopefully you’ll pick up some useful ideas for your own garden. By the way, I’d be glad to take requests for topics, so if there’s a theme that you (or anyone else) would like to see for a future workshop, do let me know!

Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden) November 1, 2008, 9:58 pm

Right now, I can’t go beyond herbs due to the deer herd. My husband and I are trying figure out a way to incorporate more than herbs.

I’ll come back to see what’s happening with the others. I know of a some fantastic gardens that mix edibles and ornamentals.


Ugh, the deer problem. I feel for you. It’s unfortunate that so many of the plants that taste good to us are tasty to them too. Maybe we’ll both get some helpful ideas this month.

Dave November 1, 2008, 11:39 pm

Great idea! I was thinking today about this very subject, incorporating edibles in the garden. I’ll have to scheme up a new post for this one. I have an Rosemary post I wrote a month ago that is perfect for this!

Great, Dave! I look forward to seeing what you come up with. I can think of several more bloggers who have done some cool things with their veggies, so it should be an interesting month.

Diana November 3, 2008, 10:42 pm

Nancy – your garden is so beautiful and lush and FULL of things all nestled so neatly together with one another. Wow. I am so impressed. And I love your photos of the colorful edibles like the Swiss Chard and the beet and the really red deer tongue. I’ve never heard of that – how is it?

Thanks, Diana! Honestly, I never tried eating the ‘Really Red Deer Tongue’ lettuce, so I can’t speak to its flavor, but the color sure was outstanding. It (along with many other cool veggies) is available through Wild Garden Seed.

Jon November 6, 2008, 3:13 am

Always a treat for me to visit your blog and feast my “sick” eyes on your lovely photos. I particularly like the combo of the red lettuce and golden oregano.

Jon at Mississippi Garden on 11-6-08

Thanks for commenting, Jon. That’s one of my favorite combos, too.

Liz Haegele November 7, 2008, 12:35 pm

There is a whole new world of delicious and beautiful trees that can easily be incorporated into our gardens and provide us with tasty treats come harvest time.

Thanks for sharing the link, Liz. Great to read about persimmons and pawpaws and amelanchiers too!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter November 10, 2008, 12:49 pm

Pest control is the key thing that prevents me from incorporating edibles into the gardens. I guess I should just stick to herbs, garlic & jalapeno peppers – nobody bothers them!

It’s interesting that people have the impression vegetables are so much more problem-prone than ornamentals. Except for cabbageworms on some cabbage-family plants and cedar-apple rust on apples, I don’t find the edibles to be especially troublesome (and no, I don’t spray them, either). In fact, I depend on them to carry the show when the Japanese beetles, blister beetles, and other summer pests are demolishing the ornamentals.

Andrea (Heavy Petal) November 11, 2008, 12:07 am

Ah – my favourite subject! I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with. I’ve never heard of orach before. How do you serve it?

I’ve got a tonne of posts on edible gardening. Here are two:

Great, Andrea – thanks for the links! Orach is grown for its leaves. I’ve only ever tried them in salads, but I think you can cook them like spinach.

Lois J. de Vries November 14, 2008, 5:15 pm

Hi Nan,
Nothing neat and tidy about how my vegetables grow, but very tasty and not a pest anywhere.
Two that are a little different: Cherokee Purple tomato and Galeux d”Eysines squash. Visit me at:

Thanks so much for joining in again this month, Lois. I look forward to seeing the squash, in particular; haven’t heard of that one before.

Frances November 20, 2008, 6:56 am

Hi Nan, while I hope to do more of this next year, I really want the merlot lettuce!, a post was scaped together to be able to join in this month: Ornamental Edibles Or Pretty Tasty

Thank you, thank you, Frances! I knew I could count on you for something fun.

Heirloom Gardener November 24, 2008, 11:09 am


As always, thank you for the inspiration. I have found the other posts very informative. Here is my contribution: Five Tips for Growing Edibles with Children.

-Heirloom Gardener

Super ideas for keeping veggies fun, HG. Thanks for sharing the link!

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