Plantings contribute to the nutrition budget, as well as the beauty of our surroundings

April 02, 2009

By Brenda Cusack, Victoria County Master Gardener Intern
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon, Victoria County Master Gardener
Cool-weather plantings of edible plants include kitchen herbs like cilantro and parsley, and leafy salad plants, like this red leaf lettuce, above.
*See more beautiful photos by Brenda Cusack  and ideas at end of article.
In times of economic downturn, many Americans traditionally find innovative ways to stretch their dollars and prove their thrifty roots.

Some among us can recall the "victory gardens" promoted in the Great Depression of the '30s and during WWII, that helped families make ends meet, as well as conserved resources and manpower needed for the war effort.

In that spirit, we might be wise to now consider efficient ways to maximize the benefits from our landscaping investments - with edible plantings that contribute to the nutrition budget as well as the beauty of our surroundings.


Primary considerations in this undertaking are like those of most garden design. Soil conditioning for drainage and nourishment is, of course, fundamental for all plants, and the need for plenty of daylight is common to most vegetables, herbs and flowers.

So, almost any relatively sunny bed can be planted in edibles, as well as appropriate ornamentals. Unfortunately, very few of the former can thrive without at least six hours of full sun a day, so partial shade will possibly work with some varieties only up to a point. Once the site is prepared, a variety of plantings can be considered.


Many perennial herbs grow into a lovely ground cover or prolific shrubby habit that you just have to trim and thin occasionally as the years go by. Some examples are oregano, marjoram and thyme.

One can design quite an attractive kitchen herb garden, which also includes chives and sage, as well as seasonals, like cilantro and parsley, which needs coolness, and basil, which is a heat lover. When the cilantro goes to seed in the hotter springtime, the seeds are coriander, the spice, and will reseed for next season, as will the basil after its profuse spikey blooms have dried in late summer/fall.

Mints will create a self-propagating ground cover that attracts bees, butterflies and birds in a moist area, like starting under a leaky outside faucet, and can then be conveniently picked fresh for drinks, cooking and garnishes.


Some vegetables usually found in the home garden will do well in landscaping.

Early sweet peas on a trellis make a delightful spring display, as well as afford the pleasure of plucking off a few luscious pods for a snack as one passes by.

In the Victoria area, we can replant many cool lovers again in the fall after hot weather plants have declined. The many lettuce varieties available make a beautiful, lush bed, and can be interplanted with salad enhancers like arugula, endive and escarole. And don't forget the marigolds, nasturtiums, calendulas, violas or pansies, among the edible flowers which add color and interest to any salad as well as the landscape.


Ornamental kale is not just gorgeous to look at. When tender, it can be eaten as well with great nutritional benefit. Collards will grow into a shrub-like plant with large, deep green leaves under the right conditions, to be harvested for months for a calcium-rich (as much as dairy) alternative and then put on contrasting bright yellow blooms at bolting.

Swiss chard is another edible that is stunning in the landscape with its large dark green leaves and deep red veins.

Purslane, a low-growing, hardy succulent with prolific colorful blooms, can be steamed (leaves and stems) as a pot herb to supply some important vitamins and minerals.

When one begins to imagine incorporating edibles into the home landscape, the possibilities abound. Strawberry towers, which have been popular in gardening catalogs, are an attractive way to grow these delectable darlings in a relatively small ground space.

How about a couple of rows of corn as a side border to the yard that also yields privacy? The bodies of spent annuals can make a rich contribution to the compost pile or go into the chipper for mulch, and the cycle continues in your thriving, growing personal environment.


This is not to exclude purely ornamental plants, of course, as their unique foliage and blooms certainly add to the visual mix, along with the edibles you choose to give space and care.

Beautiful perennial shrubs, for example, fill in when you are between crops with the annuals, so having these elements interspersed in the home landscape also makes sense. Whatever irrigation scheme you have in place then serves to supply moisture to food as well as aesthetic plantings.

In the interest of balancing turf areas and conserving water, the establishment of a few more beds that will also provide at least salad and seasonings could be the ultimate in multipurpose gardening!

These are just a few suggestions and examples of including vegetable and herb mini-crops in your plans for the yard this year, as our wonderfully long gardening season gets underway. So consider livening up your landscaping design and maximizing the return on your investments by reaping a food harvest bonus. Perhaps the time has come again to incorporate more edible elements in the plants that enhance our properties.

Put pots of herbs on the patio.
Include cherry tomatoes in a window box or hanging basket.
Build a grape arbor.
Grow nasturtium, violas or calendula and include flowers in salads.
Eat your daylilies.
Plant a fruit tree in the corner of your yard.
Grow red-jewel cabbage.
Plant colorful pepper varieties (e.g., lipstick, habanero) alongside flowers.
Tuck lettuce, radishes, or other short-lived greens into a flower bed.
Put basil together with coleus in a planter.
Try yellow or "rainbow" chard.
Grow chives around the mailbox.
Train dewberries or blackberries to grow up your fence

Source: Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet:
Edible Landscaping
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at
Aside from being an attractive planting, ornamental kale has nutritional benefit if eaten when tender.
Edible orange and cherry red nasturtiums grow in sun to partial shade under these sago palm branches.
Mixed in this colorful cool-weather bed, are edible Swiss chard and other greens, parsley and violas.