Ornamental Edibles



THE DREAMING CONTINUES…the stack of gardening books on my coffee table grows…the sketches of my garden-to-come (six days ’til closing!) proliferate. I’ve realized that the area I’m considering for a vegetable patch — the only cleared, and hence sunny, area on the property at the moment — and my front entry garden, just inside the future parking court, are one and the same. It’s also the spot — quite a large spot, roughly 1,000 square feet — that forms the front ‘yard’ and view from the future guest cottage, as well as being the central circulation core of the entire property (yes, all 1/2 acre of it).

So this space needs to function on many levels, including directing people toward the house, and not toward the compost heap, when they step out of the car. And of course, it needs to look good.


These musings led me to Google ‘ornamental edible garden’ (and order a couple more books on the subject). I’d read about how veggies/herbs, flowers, and other plants were combined at  Mount Vernon and Monticello (and before that, in the cottage gardens of European peasants). I’m a great admirer of the attractive edibles garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, above, which seems to thrive into the winter with snazzy diagonal rows of spinach and kale and parsley going strong. And my Internet explorations revealed that ornamental edibles are a super-trendy trend in both urban and rural settings, with blogs aplenty devoted to them.

I’m a newbie at vegetable gardening. My only experience is a semi-successful tomato patch at my prior Brooklyn rental in Boerum Hill, where I planted way too many tomato starters in two 4’x8′ raised beds and spent much of the summer trying to keep them under control, but also got some very tasty tomatoes.

So I have a load of questions and concerns. First, what will such a garden look like in the off-season? Pretty uninspiring, I should think, covered mostly with mulch. It will need some evergreen structure. Second, vegetable gardens need a lot of water. How sustainable is that? Am I prepared to irrigate or hand-water intensively through the summer? Is my well? Third, how do vegetable beds jibe with my overarching concept of a Japanese-inspired garden? I’ve Googled ‘Japanese vegetable garden,’ you can be sure, but came up with not much more than how to grow Japanese vegetables.

Herewith, some photos from other sites, each with ideas I can glean for my purposes. As always, your thoughts are most welcome.


How gorgeous is this? Brick paths between wedge-shaped beds…there’s a massive pile of brick behind the house that I’ve wondered what to do with, but it’s labor-intensive to lay and perhaps not in keeping with the rustic materials palette (gravel, wood chips) I had in mind.


Eileen+NEW_GARDEN_2_2011_007rocklandmastergardener.blogspot.com. This one rises out of the lawn (I’m not planning on any lawn — none), but I relate to how it’s surrounded by tall trees.





Variations on the wood-framed raised bed theme, separated by paths of gravel


Raised beds made of cinder blocks, cottage-y picket fence and twiggy arbor. I’m figuring, since the whole property is fenced, I won’t need to surround the veggies with any additional fencing. I’ve never had to deal with rabbits, woodchucks, etc. at my other East Hampton property — only deer.


Mix’n’match paving

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
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4 Responses to Ornamental Edibles

  1. It’s too bad, but the on-line version does not show most of what was great about this piece. Ornamental grasses and such, many paths, and a huge vegetable garden that was designed for the owner by a landscape architect–the article even has a water-color “map” of the proposed garden that could give you some ideas. Below is the link to what’s on-line, but go somewhere and browse the hard copy. There’s much more there.


  2. cara says:

    Thanks, literary, that’s lovely. Wish there were more pics of the garden online (and that I had “sweeping views of a neighboring vineyard”;-)

  3. plant a formal japanese garden by placing specially picked (by you) rocks that can anchor the space as well as evergreens (boxwoods are fun to clip/topiary if you like) & ornamentals & grasses that will give the garden winter interest.
    Make the paths, perhaps dark dirt to offset against the vivid greens you will want to plant,all herbs & veggies & exotics (cardoon and rainbow lights swiss chard & garlic for sure!) and make it rake-able so that you see the lines. A very zen thing to upkeep (perhaps best feasible in sand or gravel) but a bitch to maintain, again keep your focus. haha.
    Also you can put in a small timed drip irrigation hose (3-5″ into the ground) to run 15 mins in the morning and at night, and let nature do the rest.
    Only the strong will survive. Gardening is hard core.
    Plant perennials along with your veggies and you will also have year round beauty or some small cherry trees or crab apples to center some veggie quadrants. Don’t forget that you can also plant large urns (blue glaze or Jade green or terra cotta, natural) overflowing with edibles that you can move around the garden as needed for height or to fill in an empty space.
    The Japanese are also very keen on water element in a garden, which is another thing you could make very easily (get a pump kit at Lowes and a large fake plaster urn that weighs nothing and looks real & impressive) and have as an overflowing, recycling water feature in the absolute center that will encourage birds and tranquility when you’re out there weeding and picking and admiring mother natures work, and yours as well.
    Good luck, It will forever be evolving, as will you, thus the Japanese wabi-sabi, appreciation of the odd or broken, but unique and fixed.
    P.S. Slugs love beer, so when you get a outbreak, put a saucer of your finest/cheapest brew out here and they’ll all go in and drown in it.
    It is a cruel world, but someone’s got to do it.

  4. cara says:

    Wow, Deborah, thanks so much for taking the time to write all that out. You really painted a picture of what it could look like. In fact, this whole edible/ornamental garden area is going to be built on a former swimming pool which has been filled in with clean sand, so I already have sand paths! Why am I thinking of putting anything else on top of them? Love the thought of the large urns, too. Lots of good ideas there. Appreciate your input!

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