Vegetables in Your Violets

It seems that as our free time has decreased and our yards have gotten smaller, our desire for homegrown fruits and vegetables has actually increased. The fun way to pursue this is to take a traditional ornamental garden approach by first considering color, be it leaf, flower, or even fruit, and then planning for the joy of the harvest. After considering which colors work well together in the garden, narrow down the plant possibilities even more by noting what your family will eat and what plants are suited for the conditions of your garden. The following are some color palette ideas and some great vegetable and flower combinations to get you started.

Good Greens
Any flower works well with green, but think about using annuals with big, bold flowers like zinnia, petunias or geraniums.

  • Asparagus is a perennial, so it comes up every year. The foliage is light, airy, and tall and looks great as a backdrop for the garden.
  • Oh my, the many varieties and types of leaf lettuce will give you plenty of options. These are generally quick crops, but the leaf colors are amazing. You should start them from seed and create a short, colorful edge hedge. Look for varieties with colors from chartreuse to medium green, but also consider types with burgundy or red in the leaves for contrast.
  • Kohlrobi is an exotic looking plant with green leaves and a light green bulb stem that tastes like cabbage. It is a favorite in European gardens for its wavy leaves.
  • Swiss Chard has sizeable leaves on colorful stems that come in shades of red, yellow, white, and even a rainbow variety that includes purple. Growing and caring for chard is relatively simple.
  • Pole beans grown up a pole or a tripod of branches provide a nice focal point to the garden. These beans have white flowers, but the beans themselves can be green, yellow or even purple. Scarlet runner beans have bright orange flowers.
  • Big, shiny green bell peppers can really brighten up the garden. Peppers can also be found in shades of purple or dark chocolate.

Hot Colors
Red, orange, or yellow flowers like red salvias, yellow or orange marigolds, even coreopsis, fit this color scheme.

  • Rhubarb is another perennial option and in addition to large green leaves it has vibrant red stems.
  • Tomatoes aren’t just for eating. Depending upon which variety you pick, the fruit can add bright reds, oranges and yellows to your garden. Most will need a cage to keep them upright and to allow for easy picking of the fruit.
  • Okra, a member of the hibiscus family, has creamy white or yellow flowers and also pods that can be very interesting too. On both the green and red varieties, the leaves are green, but on the red variety the stems and fruit are burgundy red.
  • Peppers in red, orange and yellow can add heat to your garden in more ways than one. Be careful when handling the small ornamentals as the capsaicin in these peppers can get onto your skin and before you know it your eyes will be burning because you’ve inadvertently touched them.

Cool Blues and Purples
Cool color flowers in blues and purples work beautifully, such as ageratum, violets, light pink begonias, or even roses.

  • Cabbage can be amazing in the garden, with its big blue, green or even purple leaves, especially when flanked with great blue and white flowers.
  • Eggplant should be grown with light-colored flowers to draw attention to the shiny purple fruit. Eggplant fruit is also available in white, green and orange.
  • Cardoons and artichokes have long growing seasons and their foliage is incredible. Both have large, silver-gray serrated leaves and like thistles, the leaves have small spines that can hurt if they become lodged in skin. With a little patience the plants will start to flower and the flower buds can be eaten.

Keep in mind the needs of your chosen plants, be it sun or shade, or dry or moist conditions. Generally, vegetables and fruits need a lot of sun, so consider the sunniest spot of the garden. Don’t forget to leave space around plants that constantly produce fruit, such as tomatoes or peppers, so that there will be room enough to walk around to gather the harvest. If you plan accordingly, you’ll be left with an incredible garden display, not to mention a colorful tasty meal that is just as pleasing to the eye.

Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.