When working in a limited space, it can be important to choose plants and designs that serve multiple functions. Although I’m primarily interested in agriculture and food production, my garden space belongs to my in-laws, who are more concerned with aesthetics: I find myself working at the intersection of edibles and ornamentals in order to satisfy both of these ideas about the space.
Because I work mostly with trees and shrubs, I take inspiration primarily from the Edenic “food forest” concept in permaculture. However, in terms of vegetable gardening, I’ve learned much from emulating the French potager-style ornamental kitchen garden. In essence: I try to make food production look beautiful.
This means choosing the fruiting trees and shrubs with the most exuberant and unique blossoms, and the vegetables with the most interesting foliage and harvests. It also means training plants into aesthetically pleasing forms: Sometimes this can come at the cost of production, but compromise between these values is constant when working in a limited space.
In integrating ornamental floral cultivation into productive spaces, it’s important to know which flowers are edible or useful in some way and which are not: The edible landscape should preferentially hold plants that serve a function. Edible, medicinal or useful flowers should take priority over those that are merely pleasing to look at or are poisonous.
This approach has benefits beyond the aesthetic: My garden is always buzzing with a diversity of pollinators and beneficial insects. It’s become a sort of agro-ecological habitat space, rather than a tilled field with rows of crops.
In terms of selecting plants, options abound. Decide what you like to look at, what can grow in your climate and microclimate, and what you will realistically use. In short, cultivation of edible ornamentals is ideal for urban or suburban farmers who want to use the garden space as both a place of beauty, and a place of production.
Here are some edible flowers you might consider.
1. Toscana Strawberries
These pink-flowering strawberries were winners of the 2011/12 FleuroStar Award in Plant Breeding.
2. Japanese Flowering Quince
This shrub produces small, fragrant, astringent fruits related to apples and pears.
3. Red Russian Kale
This variety gives gives a spectrum of vibrant color in addition to being both healthy and delicious.
4. Tricolor Variegata Chili Pepper
Purple flowers give way to spicy little purple chilis on this variegated plant.
5. Fruit Tree Espaliers
This heart-shaped pear espalier was formed with Williams on one side, and Buerre Hardy on the other.
Essentially an edible thistle, if you don’t eat artichokes in time, they turn into beautiful blossoms.
Many daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) are edible and are often eaten in Eastern Asia.
This plant is a quadruple threat: All parts of the plant are edible, the seeds can be pressed for oil, the flowers are beautiful and constant, and they are especially beloved of pollinators like bees.
A member of the brassica family, Tropaeolum majus tastes like a sharp cress or cabbage and is edible from root to shoot.
About the Author: Lynsey Grosfield is the founder of BiodiverSeed, a global seed swap network devoted to the exchange of self-harvested, organic and heirloom seeds with the goal of preserving maximum genetic diversity. Follow BiodiverSeed on Twitter.