Designing a kitchen garden with straight, disciplined rows of crops can bring great satisfaction, but fruits, vegetables and herbs can also be used as imaginative design elements of the mixed border or the flower garden. Among the kitchen garden plants you will find amazing colors and shapes that will rival those of the purely ornamental plants. Combine them in a border to obtain an ornamental, yet edible garden.
Growing kitchen garden plants among ornamental ones have lots of benefits. Yields increase when plants are grown closer together in small beds. Their foliage touches and suppresses weeds as well as shading the soil and conserve moisture. Pests and diseases often fail to find crops when they are integrated with other flowering plants.
There are several traditional garden styles that can be adapted for the ornamental kitchen garden.
The potager – is a formally planned layout in which geometric beds are edged with dwarf vegetables or salad crops, then filled with flowers and crops arranged like summer bedding around a tall centerpiece.
The cottage garden – is an easy, informal patchwork of fruits, flowers and vegetables, combined in an apparently artless style that makes maximum use of every corner.
The grand kitchen garden – is a style in which straight paths divide the area into equal-sized beds, usually four to accommodate traditional rotation schemes, edged with flowers for cutting and enclosed with trained fruit trees.
In an existing garden scheme you can start by introducing a fruiting variety wherever you want a small tree or shrub or you can erect a cane wigwam of purple-podded peas or scarlet-flowered runner beans over some untidy areas of dying bulbs foliage. To create an exciting path-side you can use sage and rosemary and train them as small shrubs. A cordon-trained pear or thornless cut-leaf blackberry will clothe a pillar as beautifully as a climbing rose. Other options for edging paths are alpine strawberries, dwarf broad beans, amt-forming thyme or marjoram or a mixture of carrots, parsley and dwarf bulbs.
Vegetable crops will merge happily into flower borders if you place them accordingly to their height. For the front of the border use dwarf plants. Grow them in rows or groups in front of all the other plants. Plants suitable for this place are lettuces, beetroot and radicchio with colorful and decorative leaves that will contrast with ferny leaves of carrots and parsley.
For the mid-border use salsify, scorzonera and asparagus. They are ideal here as flowering or foliage plants. Also you can use rhubarb, Swiss chard and mountain spinach for eye-catching color combined with red Brussels sprouts and curly kale.
For the back of the border use tall and architectural crops as globe artichokes, sweetcorn and herbs like lovage, fennel and angelica, combined with tall peas and climbing beans on cane wigwams.
Beside vegetables and herbs you can use fruits in your ornamental garden design. Trained fruits are the perfect choice where decorative highlights are needed. Apples and pears trained as cordons, espaliers and fans can be used to flank paths or gateways. You can also use them as fences within the garden. Standard gooseberries and redcurrants make handsome individual features and you can place them in the center of a border or at the intersection of paths.