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Your garden - not just a pretty face!

Written by  Dale Barber
| in Tuin
| May 28, 2014

We all love a lush, colourful garden and spend a lot of time and effort to achieve one.

But, with the ever increasing costs of basic fruits and vegetables would it not make sense for us to become more productive and creative in the way we look at our gardens?

The truth is that there has been a marked shift in gardening design. This, in part, has a direct correlation to mechanization and industry peaking at the latter part of the 20th century. With advances in trade and industry, trends changed drastically – moving away from function and productivity to leisure, recreation and aesthetics.
    The earliest kitchen gardens date back to around 2300 BC. The ancient Egyptians had walled kitchen gardens where they grew a variety of vegetables in checker-board plots divided by irrigation channels. The Roman villas also boasted elaborate gardens featuring both vegetables as well as medicinal and aesthetic plantings. However, European gardening took a tremendous step back during the Middle Ages as literacy and knowledge became the domain of the church. Before this most people had some form of kitchen garden, but during the middle ages gardening was confined to the monasteries, cloisters and abbeys.     
    In the golden era of the Renaissance the former glory of the roman gardens was reintroduced to European society, with horticultural production once again focusing on vegetable, medicinal, and aesthetically appealing crops. This continued through the Napoleonic, Elizabethan, and into the Victorian eras.
    With the advent of supermarkets and relatively cheap fruit and vegetable pricing, gardening trends changed to preclude fruits, vegetables and herbs, with gardeners rather opting for lawns and aesthetic borders. This trend has so changed gardening thinking  that if I even mention vegetable or productive gardening this would conjure up a an image of a small blocked vegetable patch crammed into a disused corner of the back garden.
    This does not have to be; or rather, should not be, the way we look at gardening. If we look at the variety and splendour of the plants found in the kitchen gardens of the Victorian era at the latter part of the 19th century, the head gardeners took pride in the vegetables, fruits, herbs, as well as ornamental plantings they were able to produce.
    It is time to reintroduce productive gardening into our basic garden design. Trees and shrubs that are purely ornamental can easily be substituted with fruiting varieties providing an added bonus of not only fragrant flowers, but also fruit colours to the palate. In many instances herbs and herbaceous plants such as lavender, rosemary, salvias, sages, box thymes, and even roses have been reintroduced, however, they are seldom cropped. We have lush flowering annuals and perennials in our gardens but think nothing of stopping off at a florist to buy a bouquet of flowers for that special person or prominent place.
    Vegetables can be used in numerous ways in the modern landscape with as much effect as their showy counterparts. Many have vibrant colours and interesting leaf textures. Annual vegetables can easily be inter-planted with flowering varieties in beds and pots to create an interesting contrast.
    Leafy lettuces have a variety of forms and textures, and really interesting colours ranging from a soft pale green right through to reds and dark purples, and would easily complement marigolds and dwarf cosmos.
    Kale can easily be used as an edging plant in the cooler late summer. Their large green leaves and white or colourful reddish-purple centres give them the appearance of large flowers.
    Annual vines like beans, peas, and sweet potatoes can be planted on a fence or trellis to create interesting focal points. They can also be supported on the sides of patios to provide summer shade. Beans and peas have interesting flowers ranging from reds to lilacs with the added advantage of the interesting forms and colours of the ripening fruit. Sweet potatoes have an interesting leaf shape with a stunning green gold colour. Purple foliage varieties are also available. Together these would surely make an interesting screen.
    Pergolas can be grown over with vine tomatoes, which have striking red or orange flashes of colour in a leafy green canopy. They will produce good quality fruit over a long period if properly supported and pruned.
    Bush tomatoes make interesting focal points in ornamental pots. These can be supported with a shorter stake or cage and some need no support at all. Bush tomatoes come in a range of colours from red, orange yellow, green, pink, and even burgundy.
    Granadillas grown on a trellis or fence makes a striking screen with ornate dark-green leaves and elegantly structured colourful flowers.
    Peppers or capsicum have become more popular as ornamentals over the last few years as their  varied fruit shapes and ranging colours contrast magnificently against their dark green foliage. There are many colourful species of peppers ranging from reds, purples, oranges, and yellows. They can be planted in showy borders or used in pots, but do require full sun and good moisture.
     Swiss chard has bright and distinctive ribbed leaves. The stems vary in colour from red to bright yellow, making them an ideal ornamental vegetable.
    Rhubarb chard has crimson stalks with wrinkled dark green leaves that have pronounced red veins. Chard tolerates a host of climatic conditions and is even frost tolerant. If the plants become tacky in appearance they can easily be cut back to a few millimetres above the ground, and before long new leaves will be produced.
    So, vegetables, herbs and fruits can thus be used as ornamentals. Similarly, their ornamental flowering counterparts can be used as food. These can provide spectacular colour as a garnish in salads, and perk up even the dullest of plates:
    Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis) and Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) are used as a poor man’s saffron and are spicy and peppery in taste. Carnations (Dianthus species) taste clove-like and spicy. Gardenia jasminoides has a sweet flavour. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis makes a good tea while Impatiens walleriana is bland yet edible.  Pansies (Viola x species) have a sweet flavour.
    These are only but a few suggestions, but if all we do is to change our minds as to where vegetables should or ought to be planted, we will all be eating our gardens in the near future.

Happy gardening!