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How to Grow: Edible Plants with Seasonal Color
One of the popular ways to have color all season in your foodscape yard is to grow plants that flower in each season. This common concept is used to make cottage flower gardens look so great from spring to fall. You can use it in the foodscape, too. You don’t have to exclusively use just foodscape plants, but they can help provide color, especially ones that will continue to bloom all summer. These might include eggplant, citrus and roses. Some foodscape plants, such as daylilies and bee balm, may flower for a limited amount of time and then be done. To keep the colors coming all season in that area you may have to interplant with other perennials and annual flowers or edible plants. For example, in a bed with daylilies and bee balm plants growing, plant early flowering pansies or chives for spring color. Add a summer planting of dwarf peas near by (especially the pink flowered types such as ‘Golden Sweet’) to flower in late summer after the daylilies and bee balms have finished for the season.
In warm winter climates you can really extend this idea using hardy vegetables and flowers that are fall planted for winter use. Plant attractive violas, kales, cabbages, spinach and parsley to keep your foodscape looking full and vibrant during the dull days of winter. Because these plants can take some cold in your mild climate, it allows you to mix and match them with other ornamentals of the season such as primroses, chrysanthemums and snapdragons.
Of course, having some main tree and shrub foodscape plants that provide interest over many months of the year on their own will help provide color without having to mix and match plants as much. These plants may offer color through their flower, fruit, leaf, or bark color. Some, such as citrus, will give you flowers and colorful fruits throughout the growing season. Most plants, however, will have certain traits for each season. Below I highlight a few examples of foodscape plants with good seasonal color.
Foodscape Plants with Seasonal Color Interest
Plant Spring Summer Fall
Rose flowers flowers red hips
Blueberry white flowers blueberries red foliage
Serviceberry white flowers blueberries red foliage/attractive bark
Cherry white flowers red fruits bronze foliage
Persimmon fragrant flowers orange fruits gold foliage
Elderberry white flowers black fruits yellow foliage
White flowers red fruits red foliage
yellow flowers black fruits red foliage
It’s not always the flowers, fruits and fall foliage that creates color in the foodscape. Sometimes you can create interest by selecting more colorful leaved varieties. A ‘Genovese’ basil plant is attractive for its bright green leaves and white flowers. However, substitute that with a Thai basil plant with its purple tinged leaves, stems and flowers and now you have a much more interesting ornamental edible in your garden.
Plant breeders are continually crossing common perennial, tree and shrub plants to create more unusually colored leaved varieties. These can be used on their own to bring color to the garden or mixed and matched with other favorites to add nice contrasts. Sometimes just by substituting an edible variety with unusual leaf colors, you can create a more dynamic look in your foodscape. Below are some examples of varieties of common edibles with great leaf colors.
Foodscape Varieties with interesting leaf colors
‘Black Lace’ Elderberry- purple leaves
‘Marginata’ elderberry- green and gold leaves
‘Black Pearl’ pepper – jet black leaves
‘Siam Queen’ Thai Basil- green leaves with purple veins and stems
‘Alaska’ nasturtiums- green and white leaves
Tricolor’ sage- purple, green and white leaves
‘Pineapple’ mint- green and white leaves
‘Arctic Beauty’ Kiwi- male vines have pink, white and green leaves
‘Bonfire’ peach- burgundy colored leaves
‘Jolly Roger’ fig- white and green leaves and fruits
‘Centennial’ Kumquat- yellow and green leaves.
‘Red Ball’ cabbage- burgundy red colored leaves
Excerpted from the book, Foodscaping (CSP, 2015)