When I became a new homeowner and a fledgling gardener, I inherited a sea of grass, and borders of flowering shrubs and perennials. I had never grown anything outdoors - certainly not anything to eat - and I was intrigued when my husband suggested we try a vegetable patch in our shady backyard.
We started with a few tomatoes and a row of radishes. But then I took another look. I realized that most of our sunshine was in our front yard - and that grass was, well, boring.
Besides which I had fallen in love with eggplants. How could anyone not see the beauty of eggplants, in flower as well as fruit: lustrous 'Black Beauty', rosy 'Rosa Bianca', pale 'Ghostbuster', slender 'Ichiban', chubby little 'Bambino' - the whole ratatouille. And I appreciated the attractiveness of other vegetables, from Swiss chard to English peas, and butternut squash to beet greens.
We ripped out a sizable section of the front yard and replaced it with a flower-vegetable garden.
In some places flowers border vegetable beds, and elsewhere it's the other way around. Or they simply grow among each other - diversity works with plants, as well as people.
If you want to do your own mixing and matching, start with Swiss chard - which looks good in pots as well as the ground. (I also fill pots with lettuce and pansies to take the chill off the first days of spring.) 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard is my frontrunner, with spectacular neon foliage that sparkles in the corners of my flowerbeds.
Also consider kale. It's a grand specimen plant and a healthy substitute for potato chips.
Flowers and vegetables make good neighbors throughout the garden. Just make sure everything has enough space and the right conditions. So don't put sun-lovers in the shade garden, or water guzzlers with plants that like things dry.
In my garden lettuce, beets, radishes and carrots intersperse with nasturtiums and ageratum in the dahlia beds. Chives spice up flower borders, and mounds of oregano provide a fluffy, green carpet for 'Casa Blanca' and 'Stargazer' lilies.
Think big. I've told you about cucuzza - the baseball-bat-size squash my husband takes pride in. Well, it travels over the same arbor as my climbing roses. Some rose purists may gasp, but both vines seem happy. Mandevilla mingles with cherry tomatoes and pickling cucumbers on the obelisk in the center of my herb garden. I've been known to tuck beans among the balloon flowers. And okra's yellow flowers hold their own with the hollyhocks.
So don't be shy. Mix things up. Your garden will be beautiful and bountiful. What edible-ornamental combinations are you trying this year?
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