Ornamental kitchen garden design has more than 450 years of tradition from which to draw, but virtually anything goes. Just be sure some color accompanies that culinary crunch.
Here are some tips to make your creative gardening endeavors more palatable:
¢ Follow the sun. Vegetables need their day in the sun, or at least six to eight hours worth, if they're to produce the best yields. But showier varieties deserve visibility, too. Place them near the kitchen door for convenience; yet also position them where they can be enjoyed from the windows.
¢ Plan small and then plant smaller. We're talking about using a heavy mix of perennials here, things like asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, chives, strawberries, fruiting shrubs and trees. Find varieties that are at the same time attractive and flavorful.
"Start with a 10-foot by 10-foot section. You always can add to it later. Then grow just the things you enjoy or can't get at the farmer's market or grocery like luxury herbs and fancy, tender little greens," says Ellen Ogden, co-founder of "The Cook's Garden" seed catalog.
Skip the bigger plants, like sweet corn. They not only take up a lot of room but they rob the soil of nutrients. Salad greens or tomatoes provide more nutritional value for the space, Ogden says.
¢ Succession planting. Get a second crop into the ground immediately after harvesting the first. Depending upon your climate and the maturity dates of your plants, a compact ornamental kitchen garden can be good for as many as three crops per growing season. Speed things along by using seed sown in peat pots. That way, they'll be ready to drop into the ground after the cool weather plants (beets, cabbage, radishes, mustard and spinach) are done.
¢ Border plants. If you prefer a living barrier to stone walls, then choose a hardy ornamental shrub that will flower, fruit and produce a colorful background when viewed from within or without.
¢ Go easy with the chemicals if you intend to nibble on the blooms. You'll be washing them, of course, but gently if you want to deliver them intact to the table. Better that you grow such things organically to make them even more food-safe.
¢ Some edibles taste fresher and last longer when picked than others. But you can enhance those flavors by harvesting in the cool of the morning. Keep the clipped edibles crisp by covering them with a cool, wetted towel.
¢ If you're starved for room, then plant deep and grow things up as well as out. Use vining plants like grapes, beans and squashes.
¢ Stop and eat the roses. Some of the newer, hardier shrub roses bloom from mid-spring until the killing frosts arrive in the fall. Roses are more than eye candy. Their petals and hips make into snacks, tea, honey and garnishes.