Decorative Vegetable Plants

Some vegetables, as well as fruits, are very decorative and needn’t be confined to the kitchen garden.

For instance, the globe artichoke is one of the loveliest silvery foliaged plants, with large eye-catching, ornately divided leaves. It could be described as somewhere between the acanthus, or oyster plant, and the Scotch thistle but prettier than both, and taller, with leaves standing a meter or two high.

The flowers are like a soft fuzzy blue pincushion sitting in the top of a woody vase the size of a teacup. It is the flower part in the bud stage that is eaten, or more correctly the fleshy bracts of the flower head.

Globe artichokes are perennials. When grown as vegetables they are raised from seed initially, then only the plants showing good quality fruits are kept and future increase comes from shoots that form at the base of mature plants.

Quite different is the Jerusalem artichoke, which has blooms like small sunflowers, to which it is closely related. But it is grown for its tubers and the name artichoke comes only from its reputed similarity in taste to the globe artichoke. Frankly, I see no resemblance, having always found them with a flavor resembling ants, but some people obviously like them.

Asparagus can be quite decorative as it makes clumps of canes decked in soft dark-green plume-like foliage. It is the shoots of these canes that are cooked and eaten. These are cut soon after the tip shows above the ground, but not until plants are three or preferably four years old and well established.

Like the globe artichoke, they are initially raised from seed. The female plants, identified by their berries, are usually discarded as the males produce better spears.

To grow asparagus as an edible crop, a good well-composted soil is needed. Crowns are normally set in a trench and covered with only a few centimeters of the soil, then the trench is gradually filled in as growth progresses. However, there is no reason why three or four crowns could not be grouped for a pleasant clump effect. Two or three of these clumps would be needed for a worthwhile yield.

Rainbow chard, which is a Swiss chard or silverbeet with gaily colored red or yellow stems, looks decorative in the garden and is sometimes combined effectively with low bedding flowers below it. It cooks and tastes like silverbeet and can be picked over several months.

Most people would now accept the idea of having parsley, and certainly a number of other herbs, in ornamental parts of the garden.

Thyme and winter savory are delightful in rockeries. So are marjoram and sage. Oregano also gets by, and so do mint, pennyroyal and chives. Basil, although only a summer annual, is a bright cheerful green and delightfully aromatic. Rosemary is worth growing purely for decorative purposes even though it may not be wanted as a flavoring.

Strawberries make pleasant borders or look well as a ground cover under roses. Capsicums or peppers fit attractively into the flower garden, especially when their fruits are left on long enough to change from green to red. They revel in a warm sunny position. Eggplant is also decorative, whether in fruit or not.

The ornamental value of lemon, orange, cumquat and other citrus trees is now rapidly becoming accepted but there are still very few people who would substitute a fruiting apple for an accepted decorative tree; yet the dear old apple has character and beauty when not in bloom, and even when pruned.

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