An old-fashioned blended garden which includes ornamental plants with vegetables, fruit trees and herbs is still a winning combination, according to garden guru PETER CUNDALL
A blended garden is the best of both worlds
There’s nothing strange or alien about growing vegetables, fruit trees and herbs as part of an ornamental garden. After all, most English cottage gardens were originally composed of vegetables and herbs, almost always maintained by women.
There was usually a straight, dividing path to the front door. One side grew potatoes while the other side grew cabbages, turnips, carrots, parsnips, lettuces, peas and beans. Every year, sides were swapped as a crude form of crop rotation.
It was only later when many cottages were rented by artists and writers that seeds of annuals, perennials and other easily-grown flowering plants were casually scattered around to create the colourful mix of summer-grown plants we now call cottage gardens.
However, combining edibles with ornamentals is not only highly attractive, it is also a valuable source of food. What could be more delightful than going into the flower garden to gather ingredients for a tasty meal?
When in full fruit kumquat trees look as if covered with small, golden Christmas lights
Many edible plants and fruit trees are attractive and easily blend with ornamentals. For example, parsley can be grown as a valuable, rich-green edging plant. It looks at home along path edges alongside violas and dianthus. And the more it is picked, the more luxuriantly it seems to grow.
Chives are another herb which are very much at home in a rose garden. Some years ago I discovered a clump of a particularly fine and tender-leaved form, still surviving in the remnants of an old garden where a cottage once stood.
I divided the clump into tiny divisions which were then pushed into the soil around and between our roses. Each November they produce lovely displays of rosy-pink flowers while the delicate onion aroma provides a useful deterrent against aphids.
Lettuces grow contentedly among annuals and shrubs even if slightly shaded. The small, colourful Red Oakleaf, butterheads or colourful mignonette varieties
look great anywhere and have the advantage of being less likely to be attacked by birds because they are partly concealed.
The brilliantly-coloured forms of silverbeet known as Rainbow Chard are wonderfully ornamental. Stems are rubyred, yellow, cream, pink and even cerise. The large leaves of Ruby Chard have an unusually-beautiful, almost metallic appearance and in winter turn deep burgundy. Many people consider them to be sweeter than common forms of silverbeet.
Leeks have a glaucus-blue appearance and like chives may be planted in small clusters of three or five between roses bushes, or as edging plants. They too provide both winter colour and tasty eating.
Many fruit trees look great as part of an ornamental garden.
Apple trees grafted on to dwarfing stock take up little space and are clearly happy growing in lawns or even in flower borders. Varieties such as Spartan (pale pink flowers in spring followed by outstanding, deep, purple-skinned fruit), or Golden Delicious with huge yields softyellow apples make superb, edible features in any garden.
The pink and snowy-white quince blossoms are exceptionally beautiful and trees can be kept small by summer pruning. In autumn the same trees are festooned with dangling, golden fruit.
Citrus trees are always highly ornamental. The Meyer lemon is nothing more than a large bush, but in late winter and spring they are dotted with bright yellow, extra-juicy lemons.
Other lemon trees such as Lisbon and Eureka grow twice as large, have more ‘lemony’ lemons than Meyer and crop consistently right through the year.
All citrus trees are best grown separately from other plants so make outstanding lawn specimens. However they need extra water in summer and the grass around them should either be heavily mulched or the grass mown short to avoid competition.
Kumquat trees eventually grow to about 2m with a single trunk and wide, dome-shaped canopies. When in full fruit they look as if covered with small, golden Christmas lights.
I’ve been experimenting with this kind of mixed, blended garden for many years. The mixture not only looks fantastic – but tastes delicious too.