By Victoria Rolfe
I’ll bet if you ask anyone if they are a gardener of vegetables or flowers, they will say one or the other, or might even say both, but they would not mean both together in one garden. In many minds, gardening is divided into two main categories. There is landscaping or flower gardening, and there is vegetable gardening. The vegetable garden is usually out back somewhere sight-unseen, with regimented rows of edibles, if there even is a veggie garden at all.
This divide of different gardens is the result of the typical mindset that there are plants grown for beauty and plants grown for food, and never the twain shall meet. To this I say, Poppycock! A beautiful plant is a beautiful plant, whether you can eat it or not. And if you can eat it, then you’ve got an added bonus to your gardening efforts. Vegetables are not ugly. In fact, some of them are gorgeous. They deserve to be admired for their looks as well as their deliciousness and nutrition.
Some folks, who will readily grow plants around the foundation of their home and maybe an additional flower garden or two, say that they don’t have the time or money or space for a vegetable garden. Au contraire! If you have the room for any plants at all, and you are putting in the effort to maintain and keep them alive and happy, then you can quite easily grow at least a few vegetables, herbs, or fruits.
Almost a decade ago, when my team of Magical Gardeners (aka Master Gardener Volunteers) took over the planting of one of the gardens in the front of the Dutchess County Farm and Home Center as part of the Sustainable Demonstration Gardens, we made a strong commitment: As part of our education for the public, we would always grow something edible in our garden to show people just how easy and satisfying it can be to raise food, even without a vegetable garden.
We have been faithful to this promise throughout our years together. In fact, when we recently renamed the demonstration gardens from the boring “locations” we originally used — ours was “Middle Lower” — to names that reflected more of what ours were all about, we rechristened ours the “Ornamentals & Edibles Garden.” We have gotten many compliments on it through the years and no one has ever commented that it looked like a vegetable garden. In fact, I don’t think most people even notice how many edible plants we have packed into our special space.
There are so many lovely features that edible plants have to offer in an aesthetic design. Some offer stunning leaf color and texture. These include many lettuces, kale, parsley, oregano, basils, Swiss chard, and cabbages. Others offer pretty flowers, such as many beans, peas, and herbs like chives and lavender. The huge flowers of squash family plants can be quite dramatic in an ornamental setting as well. Even the actual vegetables themselves offer visual appeal in addition to nutrition. We have grown adorable orange “Tangerine Dream” peppers in our O & E bed, and multicolored cherry tomatoes have graced our archway as well.
Not only are the plants we grow for food also pleasing to look at, but many of the plants we grow as flowers are edible as well. Some of these include nasturtiums, violets, pansies, marigolds, carnations, chrysanthemums, and bee balm.
And, of course, fruit trees such as apple, cherry, and pear in your landscape can be just as attractive as ornamentals, with their delightful spring riot of blossoms. We have a simply magnificent elderberry bush in front of the Farm and Home Center that is a show stopper for its delicate lacey purple leaves as well as its spring blossoms and the lush fruit that adorns its graceful branches in the summertime.
So, I say let’s put an end to this silly divide between plants grown for glamor and plants grown for food. They can be one and the same. Every plant is beautiful in its own way, and some are delicious and nutritious as well. Let them all happily blend together and the world will be a better place.
Victoria Rolfe has had a love of gardening all her life, from the time she was a tiny child coveting the daffodils growing in her neighbor’s yard (and wondering why she couldn’t have them in her own), to her teenage years when she took her pot experimentation in a different direction by growing the seeds she extracted from the bag into a beautiful marijuana plant on her bedroom windowsill. She went on in her adult years to feed her family by growing a huge and bountiful vegetable garden, as well as beautifying her three-acre property with an array of ornamental trees, bushes and flowers in the magnificent Hudson Valley region of New York.
Victoria learned a great deal in the process of all this plant experimentation. She then added to that knowledge by taking courses with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to become a Master Gardener Volunteer. In her volunteer capacity, she helps to educate the public on gardening through classes and information booths, most notably at the Dutchess County N.Y. Fair each August. Throughout the summer months, Victoria is most likely to be found among the weeds, either in her own garden or those of others who actually pay her to play in their dirt and do the thing she loves best, delight in the magical world of gardening.
Victoria is not only a gardening aficionado; she is also passionate about helping people live a better life on less money. Visit her website and blog at brightfuture2budget4.weebly.com, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.