The Ornamental Vegetable Garden

Our vegetable gardens need a facelift! Just because something is practical does not mean it has to be boring. Vegetables are often attractive plants. Their mixture of leaf colors and textures add beauty to the staid vegetable garden.

Ornamental vegetable gardening is not a new idea. Potagers, or decorative kitchen gardens, were a part of the elaborate gardens at Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV in the 1600's. Today, Rosemary Verey, an English author of gardening books, and other famous gardeners still add ornamental interest to their vegetable gardens through the skillful blending of vegetables and herbs with varying textures and colors to create garden tapestries. The combination of aesthetics and practicality in an edible garden does not require the wealth of kings; only a little imagination and preplanning.

Potagers are often geometric in layout. They are also often edged with ornamental plants. Many European gardeners edge their potagers with boxwood. However, almost any small mounding plant will work as long as it does not hinder the growth and production of the vegetables within. The vegetables should receive full sun at all times or production can be compromised. Try Dalhberg daisies or marigolds for a blooming edge.

Potagers tend to be formal in design with pathways dissecting them. Trellises and archways are common features in many decorative kitchen gardens. They provide support for vining crops and add height to the garden. Vegetables and herbs with colorful foliage and varying textures are used to add more interest. 'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard, 'Purple Ruffles' Basil, 'Bronze' Fennel, and several varieties of leaf lettuce are just a few plants with colorful leaves or stems.

The book Creative Vegetable Gardening by Joy Larkcom contains many designs and basic shapes; or create your own design for an ornamental vegetable garden. The choice in patterns is endless and does not have to be limited to only formal designs.

Start with something simple like orienting rows differently in your rectangular garden plot. Creating an ornamental vegetable garden does not require sacrificing interplanting, succession planning, crop rotation, or any other good cultural practice. It only means designing the garden in a different way to make it more visually appealing. So give that garden a facelift this year. Why not make it beautiful as well as functional?

This article originally appeared in the April 14, 2000 issue, pp. 33-35.


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