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Ornamental Edible Vegetables

July 22, 2011

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Every January, the members of my community garden have a potluck supper, during which we thumb seed catalogs and order for the coming season.

To this day, I do not know what possessed me to raise my hand to get “put down” for two ounces of scarlet runner beans.

Only later in spring, standing on my patch of soil with the glossy bean seeds in my palm, did I pay attention to the fine print in the catalog: “Need trellis, fences, or pole; will grow to 10–12’.”

Ten to twelve feet?

What was I thinking?!

I possess neither the patience nor skill to weave string into a trellis. A fence in a community garden is out of the question. For a moment, I considered starting the seeds and worrying about the support later . . . then, I remembered: There is a forest across the street! Its floor is littered with “poles”—tree branches—of varying lengths! And they are free!

I ran over and gathered an armload of limbs. I stuck them deep in the soil in two clusters, tied them together, and set five seeds at each base.

A blustery wind could have knocked the sticks down, but it didn't happen.

Today, the sticks and beans form the gateway to my garden.

The form brings smiles to visitors and, just yesterday, a male and female goldfinch. According to the catalog, hummingbirds are attracted to runner beans' brilliant blossoms. (Still waiting . . . )

In case you're wondering, the stalks on either side are Autumn Beauty sunflowers grown from seed. The flowers are just about to appear. (The plants are close together but I couldn’t bear to thin them.)

The newspaper path is lined with bok choi, grown from last year’s leftover seeds. Rather than harvest these as whole plants, I’ve been cutting single stalks from select ones so that there is no “hole” in the row.

In among the bok choi are two Brussels sprouts. I will give them a boost of compost in hopes that the sprouts will develop as I bring in the bok choi.

Kale, grown from seedlings, stands at both ends of the path to add color and height. Beside the path, short rows of Maxibel beans from seed are making an appearance.

As you can see, neighbor gardeners are growing in rows—a tried-and-true pattern that gives order not just to the plants but to the planning. It’s easier to rotate plants in rows than those in a hodgepodge of patches. Still, developing decorative schemes with vegetables as annuals is fun and fanciful. I’m already thinking about next year!

Are you ornamenting with vegetables? Share your ideas here and share you photos.

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Janice Stillman joined the Almanac as editor in 2000. When she is not working the words, she enjoys peddling a bicycle, growing things to eat, cooking, and handcrafts (especially knitting because needles and yarn can be taken anywhere).

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