“Edible ornamental” may sound like an oxymoron, but one of the joys of gardening is a plant that is just as beautiful to look at it is delicious to eat. Of course, I could argue that most edibles – vegetables, herbs, fruits – are ornamental, but not all flowers are edible. Some flowers can be downright dangerous – monkshood and angel trumpets, for example.
That said, the National Garden Bureau suggests there are some very worthy edible ornamentals for this season.
Basil “Everleaf Emerald Towers” is dark green with glossy leaves and a columnar habit. The fragrance is spicy with traditional Genovese flavor – pungent, intense with a sweet, clove-like finish. It fits easily into a sunny flower border or bed after temperatures warm above 50 F, and flowers 10 to 12 weeks later than standard basil.
Sun-loving Mexican anise “Dropshot” is another valuable herb. The taste is sweet anise/licorice, and the look is fern-like. “Dropshot” grows under 12 inches tall and spreads 10 to 12 inches wide. Heat- and drought-tolerant, it also can hold up to rain and wind.
Bright “Tip Top Rose” nasturtium, an All America Selection, has edible flowers and leaves. A strong, compact and mounding plant measuring 14 by 18 inches, it has been praised for producing “a bigger and better garden show.” The flowers attract pollinators, and bloom color doesn’t fade with age.
Golden yellow edible flowers and aromatic leaves add to the charm of “Mexican Tarragon.” The sweet licorice flavor is characteristic. Flowers can be used as garnish, intensifying the flavor of leaves and stems. The plant grows 12 to 18 inches high and spreads 12 to 14 inches.
“Treasure Island” is an appropriate name for an ornamental Ipomoea (sweet potato vine) that is truly edible. “Treasure Island” can be grown in pots, window boxes or the garden, but unlike other Ipomoea varieties, you can eat the leaves like salad greens. Oblong, purple tubers can be harvested and eaten in the fall.
Small peppers can be notoriously hot, and “Hot Burrito” is no exception. The red, oblong 4-inch-long fruit packs a spicy punch, perfect for infusing oil and vinegar with flavor. The bushy plant needs full sun. Peppers become hotter as they mature with a Scoville rating of 3,000 to 6,000.