Horticultural Society: Edibles can add style and nutrition to your garden

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rude elaine

Calgary Horticultural Society

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Gardening, especially food gardening, is currently experiencing a renaissance in popularity. For those who love ornamental gardens, embracing the trend of growing your own food can be a challenge. Do we really want to reserve valuable real estate for mundane edibles? However, many edible plants embody the criteria we use when choosing ornamental plants: beautiful shape, foliage and flowers; attractive color and shape; and multi-season interest.

For centuries, the French have been perfecting the art of creating beautiful and beautiful vegetable gardens called potagers. With pleasing design principles such as shape and form, color and texture, symmetry and focal points, the vegetable garden is a delight to behold. Careful selection of plant varieties, with an emphasis on flavor, are arranged in intricate patterns and shapes.

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While not everyone has the space or desire to incorporate a vegetable garden on their property, we can always incorporate vegetable garden concepts into our existing landscapes. Deciding what to grow can be a challenge. The first step is to consider what you like to eat and what is hard to find locally. Tomatoes are high on everyone’s bucket list because of the superior flavor of home-grown tomatoes. Then check online seed catalogs for interesting varieties. Selective breeding and hybridization have yielded fruits and vegetables with an assortment of colorful foliage, in many sizes and shapes. The flavor should be mentioned in the description.

Spanish bean.  Courtesy, Deborah Maier
Spanish bean. Courtesy, Deborah Maier .jpg

Vertical accents are key design elements in ornamental gardens. Acting as punctuation marks or focal points, they add height and interest to lower plantings. Stakes are attractive conical structures made of wood, metal, bamboo canes or branches. They serve as decorative supports for vine crops such as beans, peas, cucumbers and squash. Size and weight should be appropriate for the harvest. Growing vertically is a real space saver.
Look for ancient varieties of mountaineers, as many of these are more colorful than modern types. Attractive climbing peas with decorative flowers and fruit include ‘Centennial’ with dark purple and lavender flowers followed by dark purple pods; ‘Magnolia Blossom’ and ‘Sugar Magnolia’, which are snow peas with both light purple flowers and green or purple pods, respectively. All grow 1.2 to 2 meters tall.

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Climbing or scarlet beans like warmer temperatures and are therefore excellent additions to mid- to late-summer gardens. They continue to grow and curl upwards until they are knocked down by frost. ‘Scarlet Runner’ is probably the best known with its chocolate brown stems and bright orange flowers. Runner beans can be used at several stages of development: young pods as snap beans, more mature pods as shell beans or completely dry for dry beans.

Pumpkins have beautiful leaves and flowers, Courtesy, Deborah Maier
Pumpkins have beautiful leaves and flowers, Courtesy, Deborah Maier .jpg

Small pumpkins and gourds have large, attractive lobed leaves and bright yellow, funnel-shaped flowers, but it’s really the fruit that is the centerpiece of the plant. There are many types of squash available, but choose those with a short maturity date, so they have a chance to ripen before frost. ‘Trombocino’ has long, flavorful pale green fruits (when young) with a small knob at the end. As it ages, it takes on interesting shapes and takes on a pale orange/beige color. ‘Red Kuri’ is a delicious pear-shaped winter squash with orange flesh and skin. Both will produce plenty of fruit during our short season.

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Leafy greens offer a variety of textured and colorful shapes to complement flowering plants. Swiss chard comes in a rainbow of colors; its brightly colored midribs contrast with its green leaves. Kale has light or dark green, purple or fuchsia leaves with broad, ruffled, upright, narrow-leaved shapes. Both can be harvested until the really hard fall frost. Colors intensify with cold temperatures.

Kalibos cabbage is a thing of beauty.  Courtesy, Elaine Rude
Kalibos cabbage is a thing of beauty. Courtesy, Elaine Rude .jpg

Cabbages are presence plants, offering many choices of colors and textures. Include varieties with different maturity dates to keep their architectural qualities present throughout the season.

Lettuces also offer a diverse range of colors and shapes. Choosing different types can keep you in salads all summer long. Leaf edges can be smooth, scalloped or intricately ruffled while foliage colors range from green, speckled, red/green and bright red to very dark red.

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Delicate foliage offers textural interest when paired with larger, coarser foliage. Carrots make an ideal border, their feathery foliage complementing the broad leaves of Swiss chard, cabbage and kale for a fabulous textural treat. With its delicate, wispy foliage, Florence fennel offers lightness when placed among larger-leaved perennials. Beets, with their attractive glossy dark green to dark red leaves, add a moody touch to beds. The leaves can be harvested gently without affecting the quality of the roots.

Adopt edibles and incorporate them into your gardens. It’s the best of both worlds: beauty and generosity.

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