Nowhere is it written that edibles have to grow over here and flowers have to grow over there. Some of the most charming gardens combine fruits, vegetables and flowers with abandon. In fact, mixing fruits and vegetables with flowers is a long-held tenet of cottage gardening in Europe – cabbages among the roses.

English garden

This English garden is a happy mix of shrubs, flowers, scarlet runner beans (scrambling up a teepee) and edible herbs tucked in along the edges of the patio.

Photo Credit: Springfield Gallery

Strawberries and flowers

Low-growing strawberries are ideal for planting in a long row or two as an edging for beds, borders, paths and sidewalks.

Photo Credit: Olga Chernetskaya

Hot pepper

Some edibles, like this hot pepper, are so attractive they fit beautifully into any sunny flower bed or border.

Photo Credit: Wong Hock Weng

And in these economically harsh times, using a garden for both beauty and food is a great way to use the sun and space you have to save a few dollars (and more) at the supermarket. Mixing in edibles is easy, and chances are you’ll think your flower beds have never looked lovelier – or tastier. Here’s how:

  • Use edibles as an edging along paths or the fronts of beds and borders. Chives, strawberries and lettuces all make attractive front-of-the-border plants.
  • Tuck in herbs just about anywhere. They’re easy to grow and mix well with flowers. Many will produce pretty blooms, and some – like oregano and thyme – even attract butterflies. Annual basil, parsley and cilantro are great in window boxes, containers or just about anywhere in the regular flower bed. Low-growing oregano and thyme also make great groundcovers. Rosemary and bay are fragrant shrubs, and sage comes in beautiful leaf color variegations.
  • Create vertical supports for tall vegetables or vining ones. Insert trellises in the back of the border to support these plants, or use freestanding teepees or tuteurs in the middle of a bed or border. Plant them with pole beans, tall (indeterminate-type) tomatoes, cucumbers, green or snap peas, or any other vining plant. For a more planned, dramatic effect – and bigger harvests – place several along a line in a bed or border.
  • Plunk a large, attractive pot in the middle of a flower bed and plant it with an edible. Bury it an inch or two deep if you want to make it more stable and look more a part of the bed. This simple addition makes a great – and different – visual accent.
  • Try an “edible hedge.” Plant feathery-looking asparagus or several rows of sweet corn for an informal hedge that will be at its peak a couple of months of the year. Or try blueberry bushes or miniature fruit trees for a more long-term hedge.
  • Plant some miniature fruit trees in the back of the border – they’re excellent there and are surprisingly productive.
  • Plant hot peppers, sweet peppers and eggplant just about anywhere there’s space. They grow just 1-2 feet wide and tall, need little staking, and the edible parts are very attractive.
  • If you have a fence along the back of a bed or border, plant it with pole beans, tomatoes, green or snap peas, cucumbers and small squash.

So get creative and mix up your plants a bit. You’ll have fun, your garden will be more interesting, and you’ll have fresh, healthy – and economical – produce for your family all season long!