Gardeners have shown increasing interest in growing food for about six years, since the most recent recession hit. Now they want more: to grow food and have a beautiful garden at the same time.

“People are looking for ways to make vegetables pretty,” Christina Salwitz of Renton, Wash., said in a lecture at New England Grows in Boston last month. “They want to consider aesthetics, and not have just a boring patch of veggies.”

The easiest way to grow food and have the garden look great is to select edible plants that are beautiful, Salwitz said, using the term ornamedibles.

“Garden centers would sell a lot more edibles if they displayed them front and center,” she said. “There are blueberries and figs of every size that make great food shrubs.”

She said that Tuscan kale is a beautiful plant with contrasting foliage. Another wonderful display of foliage is to grow three different types of basil together, creating a mix of purple and green leaves. Giant artichoke plants make a wonderful V shape with their big leaves. Even a tomato plant can be beautiful, especially as the fruit begins to ripen and get red – or in some cases, white.

Salwitz says she like to quote Roz Creasy, who Salwitz said is her idol as a pioneer in edible landscaping, as saying: “It’s hilarious if you really want to freak your friends out, you grow some white tomatoes and make pasta with white tomato sauce and don’t tell them what you’ve done.”

In addition, Salwitz said, the white tomato plant also looks great in the garden.

She likes to use lettuce as an understory plant for taller vegetables such as corn, making a better look than corn growing in rows. She also likes the mix of tomatoes and lettuce.

She plants Alpine strawberries “for their super-intense chartreuse foliage, and the berries are seriously good.”

But you don’t have to limit yourself to edible plants. You can mix in some non-edible ornamentals. A couple that she likes are mixing Swiss chard or kale with petunias and cranesbill geraniums with just about anything. She also thinks broccoli is pretty growing among coleus.

Salwitz believes that fruits and vegetables can be especially good looking when grown on supports.

She says she has a horse trough which looks good, and is good for growing vegetables like tomatoes and peppers because the soil stays warmer. You can select some attractive-looking bean plants and grow them on a trellis. Or, lay the trellis down on the garden and use it to set apart the different kinds of lettuce you grow. You can use rakes as trellises.

Spiral tomato cages can be used for tomatoes, of course, but you can grow any other vegetable on them to get them off the ground and make them more visible. She showed a picture of blackberries draping over an old mirror, which made a major statement in a garden.

Salwitz discussed how gardeners in other parts of the country have run into trouble with homeowner associations for turning their front lawns or even hellstrips and esplanades – the strip between the sidewalk and the street – into food-producing gardens. That has not been a problem in Maine.

Businesses and even governments have become more open to food-producing landscapes. At Adobe’s Seattle plant, the company created some raised beds on a rooftop where employees could grow food, and they had to hold a lottery to determine who got the plots and now have a waiting list.

In Toronto, the Statehouse has vegetable gardens growing right by the main entrance.

Salwitz said edible gardens are especially good for children.

“The garden can create relationships, teaching kids what can be eaten raw right out of the garden,” she said. “You will be amazed at the things they will be attracted to, like garlic chives. You have not lived until you have a 3-year-old with garlic breath.”

An interactive landscape is one where children can not only look at things, but feel, smell and taste them.

She noted that plant companies are doing their part to make edibles easier to use in the home landscape. They are producing more plants that are designed for containers, including blueberries and raspberries as well as the more traditional tomatoes and peppers.

So it is easy to join the trend of growing food in your landscape. If it will get just a bit warmer.

NOTE: Just about now is when you want to plant leeks and onions. They are the earliest because you can transplant them outside as soon as the soil can be worked in mid-April and they do take a long time to get to transplanting size.

Allen Sterling & Lothrop has an easy to follow guide of when to plant what seeds if you are growing them as transplants. Go to allensterlinglothrop.com/resources.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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