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Edimentals Are Trending. Here’s Why You Should Include Them In Your Garden

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Edimentals Are Trending. Here’s Why You Should Include Them In Your Garden

July 13, 2023

In many yards, you’ll find flower beds and a veggie patch and never the twain shall meet. However, many edible plants also make handsome additions to your garden. Case in point: Harry Holding’s The School Food Matters Garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, which was composed entirely of edible plants. In Holding’s thinking, Why should we keep perennials separate in the traditional long border and confine edible plants to a kitchen garden or allotment? The resulting edible garden was much more like a flower garden than a raised bed with rows of tomatoes. These “edimental” (a portmanteau of edible and ornamental) plants popped up in several other gardens at Chelsea, including U.K. garden designer and writer Manoj Malde’s design that included pineapple, guava, fennel, oregano, thyme, and cardoons. Clearly, edible plants are having their moment in formal gardens.

The pretty-but-edible category of plants is vast, and many edible plants are already used decoratively–think of herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme; likewise, fruit trees and shrubs have long been planted for their ornamental quality (is there anything prettier than an espaliered pear?). But garden designers are getting more creative about what edible plants can be used outside the vegetable patch and how they use them. Many of these plants also happen to be perennial, meaning they’re more low-maintenance than the typical annual vegetables, which are both time-consuming and water-intensive.

We asked four garden designers with a knack for weaving edimentals into their designs to share their favorite but less expected ornamental edibles. Here are their picks:

Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)

Above: Artichokes are basically super-sized thistles. Photograph by Marie Viljoen, from To Eat or to Admire: Growing Artichokes for Food and Flowers.

“I love using artichokes in the landscape,” says Lauri Kranz, founder of Edible Gardens LA. “They make a strong statement with their bursts of spring fruit, which if left unharvested, turn into magnificent summer flowers.” Manoj, who also loves artichokes, recommends planting them in the back of a border as they grow to five feet (1.5 meters) tall. According to Kranz, this perennial becomes more productive and beautiful with each passing year. Also: The bees love them.

Chive (Allium schoenoprasum)

For more on chives, see Gardening \10\1: Chives. Photograph by Clive Nichols, courtesy of Harry Holding Studio.
Above: For more on chives, see Gardening 101: Chives. Photograph by Clive Nichols, courtesy of Harry Holding Studio.

Perennial herbs are among the most common edimentals you’ll find sprinkled into the flower garden, but chives are a stand-out for Holding. “The well-loved herb is one of our favorites for bringing color drifts to a herbaceous border,” says Holdings. “It’s a reliable, delicious, and beautiful plant that deserves its place in all edimental planting schemes.”

Fava Bean (Vicia faba)

Above: Fava beans are best grown early fall or late winter. Photograph by Marie Viljoen, from The New Vegetable Garden: 7 Essentials to Grow (and Eat) in Autumn.

“Fava beans are another favorite vegetable to grow because not only are they delicious and packed with protein, they are beautiful in the garden,” says Kranz. “Tall and elegant plants with delicate flowers that turn into fava bean pods, these make a beautiful addition to any garden.”

King’s Spear (Asphodeline lutea)

King&#8\2\17;s Spear, an ancient edible. Photograph by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr.
Above: King’s Spear, an ancient edible. Photograph by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr.

“Prized in ancient Greek times and little known today, King’s Spear is one of our favorite and least appreciated edimentals,” says Holding, who notes that the yellow-flowered perennial is entirely edible, including the nutty-flavored roots, which were once considered a delicacy.

Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

Parsnip flowers are umbel-shaped. Photograph by Naturalflow via Flickr.
Above: Parsnip flowers are umbel-shaped. Photograph by Naturalflow via Flickr.

Malde likes to allow this root vegetable to bolt and grow into plants in the garden, and he even included some in his Chelsea Flower Show garden this year. “Parsnips grow very upright and tall, looking statuesque. On top of the tall stems you get the most beautiful yellow umbellifers,” says Malde. His advice is to position them in groups of three, five or seven, through your planting scheme. (See Gardening 101: Parsnip.)

Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascene ‘Miss Jekyll’)

The seeds of love-in-a-mist are edible. Photograph by It&#8\2\17;s No Game via Flickr. See Gardening \10\1: Love-in-a-Mist.
Above: The seeds of love-in-a-mist are edible. Photograph by It’s No Game via Flickr. See Gardening 101: Love-in-a-Mist.

This is an annual that needs to be grown from seed every year, but Malde says it is well worth the effort. “Love-in-a-Mist has delicate, wispy looking foliage, and the upright stems produce beautiful sky-blue flowers—and there are other varieties that bloom in white and pinks.” The plant also produces unusual, whimsical seed pods that provide interest after the blossoms fade—and edible seeds, also known as black sesame, black cumin, or onion seeds, which have a smokey taste reminiscent of the flavors its alternate names suggest.

‘Scarlet Sentinel’ Apple (Malus domestica)

A &#8\2\16;Scarlet Sentinel&#8\2\17; apple tree in bloom. Photograph by Rachel Weill, courtesy of Pine House Edible Gardens.
Above: A ‘Scarlet Sentinel’ apple tree in bloom. Photograph by Rachel Weill, courtesy of Pine House Edible Gardens.

“This is one of our favorite backyard apple trees because it stays in a lovely columnar shape as well as grows delicious sweet-tart apples,” says Lonna Lopez, a garden designer at Pine House Edible Gardens, a firm located in the Bay Area. “It can be used in a formal design, especially with a second one, which you’ll need for pollination. It also looks great in more casual garden designs where it can be used in a group or as a stand alone specimen.” Columnar apples like Scarlet Sentinel produce fruit on spurs along the main stem. With their narrow, upright shape and maximum height of about ten feet, they’re ideal for small spaces, including city gardens—they can even be grown in a container. Lopez recommends planting your Scarlet Sentinel with a Golden Sentinel for pollination and a variety of apples.

Banana plant ‘Ice Cream’ (Musa acuminata ‘Blue Java’)

The enormous leaves of the &#8\2\16;Ice Cream&#8\2\17; banana plant add a tropical vibe to gardens. Photograph by Lonna Lopez.
Above: The enormous leaves of the ‘Ice Cream’ banana plant add a tropical vibe to gardens. Photograph by Lonna Lopez.

“Ice Cream banana is our favorite edible banana to grow in the Bay Area. Not only is the large leaf shape helpful in the garden design to break up finer textures, the Ice Cream banana is very productive and delicious,” says Lopez. Note that this plant prefers mild weather and will grow in zones 9 or 10.

For more ornamental edibles, see:

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Frequently asked questions

What are edimentals?

Edimentals are plants that can be grown both for their ornamental value and for food or other practical uses.

What are some examples of edimentals?

Some examples of edimentals are nasturtiums, calendula, borage, lavender, and lemon balm.

Can edimentals be grown in a garden?

Yes, edimentals can be grown in a garden. They are often chosen for their aesthetic appeal and can add beauty to any garden.

Are all edimentals edible?

Not all edimentals are edible. Some edimentals may have edible flowers or leaves, while others may have other practical uses like medicinal properties or insect repellent abilities.

What are the benefits of growing edimentals?

Growing edimentals provides a dual purpose in the garden - both decorative and practical. They can enhance the beauty of your garden while also providing edible or useful components.

How can edimentals be used in cooking?

Edimentals can be used in cooking in various ways. The flowers can be added to salads or used as garnish, while the leaves can be used in teas, soups, or in recipes that call for a specific herb flavor.

Are edimentals easy to grow?

Generally, edimentals are easy to grow as they are often hardy and low maintenance. However, specific care requirements may vary depending on the plant, so it's best to research each edimental's individual needs.

Can edimentals be grown in containers?

Yes, many edimentals can be grown in containers, making them suitable for urban or small-space gardening.

Where can I buy edimentals?

Edimentals can be purchased from nurseries, garden centers, or online plant retailers. Some seeds may also be available for direct sowing in your garden.

Can edimentals attract pollinators?

Yes, edimentals can attract pollinators like bees and butterflies with their vibrant flowers, making them beneficial for the overall health of your garden ecosystem.

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