The 12 most beautiful edibles

Top picks from the bestselling author of The Zero-Mile Diet.

With so much talk about food security last year, I’ve decided to turn my full attention to the joys of edible landscaping – simply put, growing a beautiful garden that you can also eat. By growing ornamental edible plants we contribute to greater food security, become healthier and teach our children where real food comes from. Here are a dozen to get you going in 2009.


Enormous purple thistles against silver serrated leaves make a splendid display in the summer garden. The leaves emerge in January and are also a welcome sight in the winter garden. ‘Green Globe’ is an open-pollinated variety that grows so fast that you can harvest artichokes in September from a March seeding. The best harvest follows in the second and third year, but then plants get crowded and need to be divided. Replenish artichokes in early spring by carefully digging down to remove young offsets and
setting them out 60 cm (2 ft.) apart. When the foliage dies back in late fall, the plants are best protected from heavy frosts under a mulch of leaves or compost. Hardy to zone 8.


This annual herb is grown from tiny seeds in early spring and rewards you with the prettiest white and yellow flowers. The seeds barely need covering for germination (a general rule for very small seeds) and quickly grow into clusters of seedlings that can be transplanted for a fast-growing groundcover.


I first saw strawberry spinach at Anne Hathaway’s garden in Stratford-upon-Avon, U.K., a few years ago. Chenopodium capitatum is an eye-catching 16th-century plant still grown today. Shiny, edible, strawberry-like fruits grow on compact 45-cm-tall (18-in.) annual plants, and are very decorative in salads and summer dishes. The nutritious leaves and shoots can also be used in salads or steamed. But watch out – it self-seeds readily!


Shapely colourful lettuces enliven any garden bed and also add zest to a salad bowl. From oak-leaved to ruffled, bi-coloured to freckled, purple-black to dark red, the ornamental effects are innumerable! ‘Outredgeous’ romaine struck my fancy this year because of the intense colour contrast it provides in the border. The highly ornamental leaves are bright red on top and green on the underside. ‘Outredgeous’ can be harvested as a baby lettuce (30 days) or left to mature to a 25-cm (10-in.) red romaine (55 days).


What a fantastic show, and what an incredible number of red crabapples from this decorative fruiting tree! Crabapples are grown either for their showy springtime blossoms (with typically inedible fruits), or for edible fruits produced in summer or fall. Choose a variety such as Malus ‘Tradescant’, ‘Centennial’ or ‘Dolgo’ (all hardy to zone 3) if you want a showy crop of tart little apples for crabapple jelly.


These perennial garlic chives will provide lots of oniony leaves for your recipes, as well as charming edible mauve starburst blossoms from summer to fall. This hardy allium grows into generous clumps over the years, so the show just keeps getting more dramatic. Garlic chives make a good addition to windowboxes and a fine companion plant to keep the bugs at bay in container gardens. Hardy to zone 4.


I am greedy about this ornamental grape with leaves that transition to the deepest purple throughout the season. I have one growing in a 10-gallon pot in the greenhouse and another one climbing up the arbour outdoors. I get an early-summer crop of grapes from Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’ inside the greenhouse, and in fall the outdoor vines burst forth with an incredible harvest. Hardy to zone 5.


Radicchio ‘Pallo Rossa’ produces multiple heads of showy greens that can be harvested through fall, winter and spring. Some people don’t like the tangy bitter taste, but they’re worth it for the health benefits alone, never mind the stunning show they provide in the garden, especially when grown as a border edging plant. Radicchio is a cold-weather plant that can be direct-seeded or transplanted into the garden in spring or early fall; as it re-grows quickly, it works well as a cut-and-come-again salad green.


The contrast between the unripe red and the ripe black berries brings a checkerboard to mind. The canes are easy to prune, and tying them onto the arbour is a treat because this blackberry is thornless! The berries are large and sweet and delicious in fruit salads, pies and smoothies. They are easy to propagate by layering – simply pinning the canes down and covering them with soil, which results in new roots growing from sectional nodes along the cane. Once established the newly rooted section can be cut off and replanted. Hardy to zone 5.


This heat-loving annual, seeded indoors in late spring and transplanted outdoors once all danger of frost has passed, quickly grows to 2.4 metres (8 ft.) in hot summers. Eye-catching is an understatement when it comes to the tall crimson/purple bushy flower spikes. When mature these purple spikes are covered with light-brown grains. Amaranth grains are easy to prepare and are delicious popped, steamed or added to cookie and cake recipes.


In the beginning this bean develops flat green snap beans, with nothing that distinguishes them from other green pole beans. But as the beans mature the pods turn into a blaze of crimson and white, and develop large beans with the same colouration inside. I presume this is why Gramma Walters saved seeds of this heritage bean, as it’s hard to resist the sight of them in the garden.


‘Glorious Gleam’ trailing nasturtiums will quickly climb to cover an arbour or trellis. Not only are the leaves and flowers showy and edible, but you can make false capers from the prolific green seedpods that follow the flowers.