Edimentals : Ornamental and Edible

I was watching a gardening show and the designer said to the host that he was planning on using lots of “Edimentals.” The host of the show, who was not a gardener asked, “Did you just make up that word?” I thought for sure that the answer would be, “Yes!” The fact is, horticulturalist, Stephen Barstow started using this word around 2013. It is rapidly being adopted by gardeners everywhere.

We Can Have More

Some people want an installation of the most beautiful flowers, shrubs, and trees purely for the sake of their visual impact and nothing more. Some people are all about feeding the world, ok, feeding their family and it doesn’t matter if the compost heap is in the middle of the property or gardening tools are strewn about or there’s a path worn thin by the wheelbarrow, as long as there is a hefty crop of good eatin’ on the way. We can have both. I want more. I want style and substance. How about you?

Both Sides of the Coin

Edimentals let us have our cake and eat it too. Actually, we can have our flowers and eat them too. Plus, we can plant our purple cabbage among our flowers and find beauty where we didn’t expect it. When we design our precious little plot of land with Edimentals in mind, there’s no telling what great piece of ever-changing art we can create. We are not limited to Violets. We can paint our masterpiece with flowers, veggies, shrubs and even trees.

A Good Place to Start

Flowers seem like a good place to start. I mentioned Violets. I think I have seen salads topped with violets. I have certainly seen wedding cakes with violets and other delicate flowers. There are probably more edible flowers than non-edible. In my yard alone, I have roses, day lilies, grape hyacinth, and Queen Anne’s Lace. Queen Anne’s lace is the original carrot from which all other carrots have been derived. All these flowers are edible, as are pansies, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and dahlias. I don’t suggest you start popping flowers in your mouth without doing your homework. Many flowers are poisonous. I have foxglove, lily of the valley and daffodils. All these flowers are toxic. Always check before ingesting anything.

Our Ole’ Friends

It’s comforting to be surrounded by trusted friends and we have many, our reliable veggies. When I first started growing Swiss chard, I was amazed at its glorious beauty and size. I still plant chard in beds next to a seating area in my garden. I avoid rainbow or white chard because the red is simply stunning. Last year I bought a red romaine lettuce plant and it was vigorous and vibrant. I couldn’t stop admiring it. Deep, rich reds and cranberry colors in the garden provide excellent contrast to all the green we normally see. I imagine that is why millions of homeowners buy red Japanese maples. We can get the same effect with many different kinds of lettuce. It works! We are familiar with ornamental cabbage, but why not just plant purple cabbage for some eye candy? Sage or lambs ears can add a lighter color and different texture. These are just examples to get your thinking cap warmed up.


Not all shrubs are fruiting, but some non-fruiting shrubs are edible. The bay leaves, we use to flavor our pasta sauce with, come from the bay laurel shrub. These leaves are large and dark, glossy green. Florists uses laurel leaves for wreath making and garland making. Roselle is a heat loving plant, part of the hibiscus family, also with edible leaves and the little edible flowers it produces taste like cranberries.

Of course, there are many fruiting shrubs that can add a little sparkle to the garden. I have a magnificent ornamental (non-fruiting) cherry tree, but I also have 3 dwarf, fruiting cherry trees (shrub-like) and the spring explosion of blossoms bring me joy. The bright green leaves are decorative all on their own, but the form of the tree can be pruned to a lovely shape. The leaves of blueberry bushes can turn a deep red in the fall, perfect for a time when color can be sparse

Onto Bigger Things – Trees

Trees, first and foremost, provide much needed shade to people, animals, and plants. I cannot imagine living in a place without lots of towering, established trees. It seems like every tree in the towns around me is a maple, an oak, or a pine. Home owners and local municipalities have plenty of room for improvement and creativity. I don’t have a ton of room for new trees, but picking a new tree can feel like buying a new car, except the tree will last a lot longer!

There are some amazingly beautiful trees and some of these trees also provide something edible. Friends in New Hampshire have started making their own maple syrup. Any maple can be tapped for sap, but the sugar maple is an extravagant display of brilliant colors in the fall. Likewise, the paper birch, one of my favorites, can also be tapped for sap to make birch beer or a birch syrup. What I have planted a lot of are dwarf fruit trees. In warmer places, a lemon tree or any citrus tree is the cutest little thing.

Pulling it all Together

In thinking of design for beauty, we need to think more like a landscape artist than gardener. How? Consider your beds, in the ground or raised, like a potted, decorative garden. Arrange the plants with height, color and texture in mind. Then, like a florist, arrange your plants for visual delight. Unlike in our traditional veggie garden, we are not looking for space between plants, or for perfect rows or blocks, but a densely planted, curvy plot, with lots of variety, color, and contrast. Also, plant what you want to eat! I guess we really can have our cake and eat it too!

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