Forage and feast

Blurb: Edimentals is the term given to plants that are both ornamental and edible, and it is an easier way to grow you own edibles, especially when garden space is limited.

Edimentals can be herbs, annual or perennial vegetables, shrubs, climbers or trees that are decorative as well as edible. It is a more holistic approach to edible gardening, choosing plants with a purpose, that also satisfies our desire for beauty, texture and colour.

What’s to like about edimentals.

The approach is more informal, relying on picking what’s available on an ongoing basis, rather than a schedule of seasonal crops. There’s something very satisfying about a garden where you can ‘forage’ for those tasty salad leaves, edible flowers, bulbs or berries.

Edimentals are generally low maintenance plants too. Once established, perennial vegetables like artichokes, asparagus, and rhubarb need far less attention than seasonal annual vegetables. They  have deeper, well established roots that make them more drought tolerant. So too are shrubby mediterranean herbs like lavender, rosemary, fennel, and thyme.

Don’t discount leafy vegetables like kale, Swiss chard, beetroot and lettuce that are the easiest of crops to grow and can be used throughout the garden for their colourful and textured leaves. In winter garden peas provide a mass of bee-attracting blooms while in summer red fruited chillies and dark aubergine eggplants are attractive shrubs.

Edimentals to start from seed in autumn.

Garden fennel ( Foeniculum vulgare) andBronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Rubrum’ purpureum) are tall, striking foliage plants  (with all the herbal uses).  The leaves and seeds are strongly aromatic, adding a subtle aniseed flavour to fish, poultry and vegetable as well as spicy Indian and Italian dishes.  Grow in full sun in soil that drains well. Cut back when the leaves start to fade and it will shoot up again.

Kale is regarded as a Superfood for its high nutritional content. The curly or ruffled leaf varieties are attractive foliage plants that thrive in cold weather, which improves the flavour of the leaves.  Kale ‘Vates Blue Curled’ grows low to the ground and leaves can be harvested from 25 to 30 days for baby leaves or 50 to 60 days for mature leaves. Kale ‘Dinosaur’ has long, narrow  ruffled leaves with an earthy, nutty flavour. plants grow 90 to 100cm high and wide, making it a garden feature.

Garden peas are the most nutritious of vegetables. Sow seed directly into rich, deep soil that drains well. The dwarf or semi dwarf varieties like ‘Greenfeast’  don’t require staking, although it helps increase the yield. Runners that grow up to 2m high, like ‘Sugar Snap’ can be trained up an obelisk as a garden feature to show off their white flowers that attract the bees.  Water regularly, and feed with a liquid fertiliser once a month.

Frilly leafed lettuce varieties make super borders in the flower garden.  Plants don’t  take up much room and grow easily, provided they are planted in rich soil, in a sunny spot, watered regularly and fed monthly with Margaret Roberts Organic Supercharger. The Kirchhoffs seed range includes ‘lettuce salad mix’  of red and green loose leaf lettuce varieties. These cut and come again lettuces can be harvested for up to three months.

Winter edible flowers: Kirchhoffs has a ready- made seed packet mix of edible flowers to brighten any plate and garden bed. Calendula ‘Pacific Beauty Mix’ offers a sunny mix of apricot, yellow, persimmon and orange flowers. Use the fresh petals sprinkled over salads and stir fries and in cakes and desserts.

Artichoke ‘Green Globe’ (Cynara scolymus) can be sown in autumn or spring. It is a short lived perennial that is most productive in its second and third years. Plant in full sun in free draining soil. Water deeply and fertilise in spring. To produce big, succulent buds, artichokes need plenty of water while the buds are forming, especially during a hot dry spell. They will tolerate frost but not where temperatures are consistently below minus in winter.

Rhubarb ‘Victoria’ is used as a fruit but is actually a perennial vegetable belonging to the sorrel family. Only the stalks of Rhubarb are eaten as the leaves can be poisonous. Once established, rhubarb will reward with many years of delicious stalks. The stalks are red with a rich spicy flavour and are often paired with apples in deserts, pies and preserves.

Article by Alice Coetzee