potagers combine vegetables and flowers

How many gardeners, I wonder, are adamant that flowers and vegetables should never mix, but be kept apart – one is pure decoration, the other grown for the kitchen. This was certainly so in former times, when the vegetable plot was kept well out of sight of the house. In reality, the nearer it is to the house the easier the harvesting.

I’ve always hankered after thoughts of an established potager where all is a glorious mix, though not all flowers and veg co-habit as happily as one might wish. Sometimes a surprise occurs and the notion of flower garden vegetables is almost forced upon one. A vegetable runs to seed – what a beauty – and hey-presto; a new entrant for the cutting patch. I had forgotten the joyous exuberance of my original potager, back in the late 60s, before digital photography was a possibility – not that that had anything to do with it, only that I wish I had more images of that rather special form of growing so much of what I love in a small space.

Open your eyes

Kale in the flower patch
Dobies kale ‘Fizz’ has an attractive leaf and flower

There are frequently gaps in the flower cutting patch and bare ground is likely to become weed-infested. So why not grow suitable produce in these spaces, that are either decorative to the eye, or useful for cutting. Keep your eyes open for flower garden vegetables – shape, colour, or purely filling a gap. Only a few weeks ago, the pigeons has attacked the young ‘greens’ that I had transplanted, so I covered them all with surplus window curtaining. And forgot about them! Until I spotted that one was covered in the most beautiful white flowers. This was Dobies Kale ‘Fizz’, and oh, what a beautiful plant. Silvery finely-cut leaves and these heads of flowers. It would look glorious within the flower garden I am re-vamping. (Never mind about eating it!)

Stalks as well as leaves are attractive to the eye
Bright stalks of ruby chard will light up any plot

I cast my eyes around the various areas in which we are growing veg this year for other possibilities for flower garden vegetables. Think stalks – such as ruby Chard, or bull’s blood beet, or anything indeed with coloured leaves, or leaves with interesting shapes – wild rocket at the front of a border, for instance. Pluck what you want to eat, but don’t be afraid to let vegetables run to seed – the tall stalks of seeding spinach provide a wonderful green addition to a floral arrangement.

Gaining inspiration

a grow-your-own initiative
A mixed bed in ‘Incredible Edible Todmorden’

I take my camera everywhere, for you never know when you will spot someone else’s virtuosity. Although some of the ‘Incredible Edible‘ examples I discovered last month in Todmorden, West Yorkshire gave me food for thought as to other possibilities, I personally would not wish to be growing food so close to the road – traffic fumes and pollution would concern me). But it did remind me that the use of flowering herbs can so often bridge the gap between food and flower gardens.

Carminat with purple flowers and pods
Dobies climbing french bean ‘Carminat’

Having looked at stalks and leaves, my attention was caught by climbers. Adding height with flower garden vegetables can add drama to any flower patch. Beans are an obvious choice – runner beans allow you to provide a density of reds (mostly), though some runners are now available in salmon pink or white; bi-coloured as well. French beans are an even better bet – flowers are often purple, as are the beans; or golden in some cases.

shape and colour in the flower border
Golden cucumbers tied into canes

Never forget the possible excitement of discovering something unusual when out and about. Egg-shaped golden cucumbers can be grown up frames or wooden wigwams, as can trailing squash. All those orange globes ripening in the Autumn sunshine will readily add a fiery feel to a mixed border – flower garden vegetables at their most distinct.

Flower garden vegetables in containers

Hestia runner bean has attractive flowers
Ideal for pots – the dwarf ‘Hestia’

Small gardens may just not have space for this intermix of produce, whether edible or for cutting flowers for the house. Tubs of vegetables (and herbs) are just as attractive when intermingled with potted flowers as when grown in a bed or border. Next time you look at the Dobies website, or leaf your way through the catalogue, make a list of vegetables that could enhance the flower garden – in fact, Dobies are already aware of these dual-purpose vegetables – see how many you can spot.

All on the plate - mixed produce
Flower garden vegetables include herbs and edible flowers

Don’t forget that many ideas can be obtained from garden shows – next on the calendar is the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park (Knutsford, Cheshire). The ‘great garden carnival’ takes place from 23rd to 27th July and is one of the most fascinating of venues for an RHS show. With its four themes of Inspire, Escape, Grow and Feast, you are sure to find many more examples of flower garden vegetables; enabling you to garden potager-style in 2015.

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