Edibles as ornamentals

Sarah and I were talking about blue foliage plants this afternoon. She’d been thinking of a blue hosta for a friend’s garden. Large blue leaves would be just the right counterpoint to her friend’s fine-textured gold spirea. Trouble is, that spot in the garden gets baking-hot sun.

The glaucous waxy coating that makes blue hostas look blue can melt in a very hot, sunny position. It certainly happened to a few of my hostas this crazy summer of 2010.

On the other hand, how’s this for blue foliage! This unknown variety of red cabbage is so blue, the leaves look almost metallic. And why not use edible plants as ornamentals, especially when they’re as ornamental as this! As long as you don’t touch the leaves (never a good idea with powder-blue leaves, as it removes the “frosting”), the cabbage blueness might be more sun-resistant than a frosted hosta.

Like the taro and rainbow “front chard” we showed you in Vivian Reiss’s garden, useful things like vegetables have their own beauty. How about it? What edible ornamentals are your favourites?


  1. It does have very nice foliage! I like to use basil and rosemary ornamentally in the garden. The purple ruffle or Dark Opal basils have some nice foliage to make things interesting.

  2. It is an attractive plant, for sure.

    I guess swiss chard is an ornamental that I like too. I also let things go to seed more than I used to. I kind of like that look. ( and I am lazy.)

  3. Dave, Diana and Rosey, I love your suggestions.

    Purple basil with parsley edging, along with massed chive and sage, was a combination I used for one of my projects in the art of planting course I took this spring.

    And I was admiring bronze fennel in a garden yesterday, just around the corner from the cabbage in this post. The same garden had some striped eggplants that were as pretty as flowers.

    Swiss chard, even the non-rainbow kind, also has large ornamental leaves that can be quite dramatic — especially when backlit.

    On a garden tour a year ago, I was also impressed by a gardener who used leaf lettuce as a foliage plant in her garden. She said she was looking around for foliage plants, with a lettuce leaf in her hand to match for colour — when a lightbulb went off.

  4. Beets have nice red foliage and stalks . The dill in my garden has lovely bluish stalks, feathery foliage and attractive yellow flowers.

  5. Right, Melanie, plus beets fresh from the garden are so sweet and delicious.

    Speaking of red foliage, you remind me that there's a handsome sorrel with blood-red veining. Sorrel adds a lemony flavour to soups and salads.

  6. Great minds think alike! I've written about using edibles as ornamentals today too – but only is passing as a way people could start growing edibles instead of having an allotment…

  7. Thanks for asking~I use chard as a ornamental in containers that I set in the garden. Also, basils, rosemary and fennel are regularly planted for the bees. Ornamental kale goes in every fall and the seedheads are fantastic with pink tulips the following spring…gail

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