1. Scarlet runner beans
As the name implies, these beautiful pole beans produce clusters of outstanding red flowers that then grow beans that can be harvested as a snap bean, a shell bean, or left alone and used as a wonderful black dry bean. I first grew these somewhat out of defiance to my father, who had given me a hard time for growing food instead of flowers. He had wanted me to follow in his footsteps, where “gardening” referred to ornamentals, not edibles—the same way he followed his uncle and grandfather. When he saw the scarlet runners, he commented, “Oh good, you’re finally growing some flowers.” They really are that attractive.
Many gardeners are familiar with the beauty that is lavender. There are a number of varieties from which to choose, and these can vary significantly in height. The scent, of course, is wonderful and relaxing, and although it is common to use the flowers in potpourris and bath products, many people do not know they are also edible. The taste is exactly what you would expect, flowery. When combined with lemon they make wonderful cookies. Use the way you would many other herbs, but go sparingly as the flavor is intense. More on growing lavender.
A relative of sunflowers, sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, also produce lovely yellow-petaled flowers. They are smaller and daintier than their cousins, but have the added attraction of smelling like chocolate. It is best to corral them a bit, as they fall over when they are ready to be harvested. What you eat are the tubers found below ground. They are most often compared to potatoes and water chestnuts in flavor. Harvest as much as you can find to keep them from spreading too much.
You may be surprised to learn that horseradish produces wonderful large leaves that can add an interesting sense of contrast to an ornamental edible garden. It is extremely aggressive, so we recommend you find a large planter that you love in which to grow it, and put that on a concrete slab or flat stone. Horseradish roots will find their way out, even if only through drainage holes, so you don’t want to give them anything to grow into. We have also seen horseradish produce tiny white flowers, an unusual plus. More on growing horseradish.
What can grow 3 feet wide by 6 feet tall and tastes like celery? Yep, lovage is an unusual and striking edible for the home gardener looking for something different. In case that isn’t enough, this herb will also produce bundles of flower clusters. Use it anywhere you would use celery.
Beautiful white flowers lead to luscious ripe berries later in the season, making strawberries an eye-appealing perennial on multiple levels. You can extend this by planting an everbearing variety, which will continue to flower and set fruit throughout the season. Also look for some of the many ways you can use strawberry planters and hanging pots to add more beauty to your edible garden. More on growing strawberries.
7. Fruit trees
If you have ever seen the cherry blossoms in bloom you know how lovely a fruit tree can be. Some gardeners even steal a few branches in winter, just to force the blooms indoors, getting that much needed dose of spring. If space is an issue, look for dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties that are suited to your growing region.
Of course the bonus to all of these is that they are not only beautiful but they will also provide you with food for many years to come. A great lesson I learned, even if it was out of a bit of childish rebellion.
Gardening Jones is a Pennsylvania master gardener. Learn more at her blog.
Learn to create a beautiful landscape of edible/ornamental plants in the classic book Gaia's Garden.
Mix and match ornamental and edible plants with the Herb, Vegetable and Bird Garden Wheel Combo Collection.