Of course, generally speaking, a flower border is more attractive to look at than a vegetable patch. That’s not to say that vegetables are ugly. They are not. In fact, I love the sight of a well maintained and healthy row of vegetables.
However, do we really need to separate these two aspects of gardening? What if we could have the best of both worlds and grow vegetables that produce amazing flowers and foliage?
Well, you can. Why not stand out from the rest of the gardeners on the allotment this year. Have a go at growing edible beauties from my list of colourful, great tasting and nutritious vegetables. All of the plants featured on this page make great additions to the ornamental border as well as the dinner plate!
I had to double check this one. Any mention of ‘lily’ makes me think of the warnings my parents gave me about poisonous plants. However, the Canna Lily is not a true Lily and completely safe. The root of the canna (one of my favourite ornamental flowering plants) is edible! They make a powerful statement in any sunny garden with their large tropical leaves and bright showy flowers. Once they have finished dazzling the senses, you can dig them up and eat them. Tubers can be cooked as you would a potato and has a similar flavour.
Although you can buy the tubers from most garden centres, canna indica is extremely easy to grow from seed. Each plant will produce huge tubers in the first season. I would recommend growing from seed to avoid canna virus. There is no cure for this virus and it will weaken and eventually kill the plant. It cannot be passed down by seed.
Yes, dahlias! Those pretty flowers that adorn many gardens throughout the land are in fact edible. The starchy tubers can be boiled or roasted and treated as you would potatoes.
They are best grown from seed. Dahlias are very easy to grow and will flower all summer and into the autumn before the first frosts. Choose varieties that have the largest flowers as they will usually result in the largest tubers. You will need to experiment with different varieties for the best flavour. Some may prove to be sweet and delicious and others bland.
Portulaca oleracea Got a spare patch in the rock garden? Fill it with super-food purslane! It’s unfortunate that in modern times, we have forgotten this incredible plant. It was a prized plate filler in 16th century Europe. The thick, succulent leaves have a rather refreshing flavour similar to green peas with a tangy hint of apple. If you prefer a milder flavour, harvest later in the day when the sour malic acid is at its lowest in the leaves.
Purslane can be added to salads, stews, stir-fried and also great in soups. It is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C, E, vitamin B, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron.
Amaranthus caudatus I grew this one as a child. A highly attractive, (usually deep red) plant with downward millet-like flower clusters. Very easy to grow. All varieties of amaranthus are edible.
Amaranthus is a fast growing annual and can be the star of any West Indian meal. Eat the young tender leaves as you would spinach.
The Nasturtium is a flower plant that features a lot of my dinner plate during the summer months. Its is an excellent and fast growing annual scrambler with brightly coloured flower from pale yellow through to deep red. All of the plant can be eaten and is decidedly peppery. You can also pickle the pea-sized seeds as an alternative to capers.
Again, not to be confused in any way with actual Lillies (Lillium) which are highly toxic. Daylilies are edible. Some varieties are better in flavour than other. It is possible to eat both the thin tubers and leaves, but I really like the flower buds. They taste like a sweet lettuce and can be battered and fried.
In saying this, there is a general confusion over the classification of the Daylily over whether or not it is truly edible. People have been eating it for hundreds, if not thousands of years. However, a safe practise would be to avoid newer hybrids, some of which may be toxic.
Feijoa sellowiana This attractive silver leaved shrub will bare red and pink fuchsia-like flowers, followed by small, aromatic, guava-flavoured fruit. It comes from the mountains of southern Brazil and is part of the guava family.
Feijoa can be easily grown from seed and is fully hardy in southern parts of the UK. In order to get a good crop, you will need to plant several Feijoas together as they are not self-fertile. Plant in direct sunlight and ensure that the canopy of the plant is left open to maximise pollination. I would also recommend a little bit of hand-pollination to increase fruit production. Feijoa makes for a good container plant and is quick growing.
Do not eat tubers purchased directly from garden centres as they will have been washed in chemicals before sale. I would always recommend growing varieties from seed.