Flora and Fodder - Decorative Edibles
Kim Hurst, from The Cottage Herbery, with a selection of plants that are good to eat but also beautiful in your flower borders. - 01 July 2022
Growing plants that serve a dual purpose in the garden of being decorative while also edible, is part of the everyday work of an herb grower. While many of the herbs we grow can be used as foliage in-fillers within the garden, enhancing their floral companions, there are a few that are equally floral ‘show stoppers’ producing their own eclectic display. These herbs can easily be integrated into herbaceous borders which is especially welcome in smaller spaces, as not everyone can allot a separate space to accommodate a herb garden.
When creating any border there’s a tick list to consider position: soil conditions, colours, textures plus longevity & durability. Almost forgot, one vital thing to consider is how much cropping you will do. If you're adding edibles to the border going in with kitchen scissors can seriously damage the appearance.
Hopefully the following plants included here will tick that list. They are all tried and tested in our garden and known as reliable
Mertensia maritima Oyster Plant (Boraginaceae)
Oyster Plant has a prostrate, spreading habit it’s a deciduous perennial with fleshy, oblong to spoon shaped, blue-green leaves with branching cymes of pink buds opening to bell shaped, bright blue flowers late spring onwards. Plant at the front of the border so it can gently amble. Likes to be reasonably sheltered, dislikes full sun. Give your plants a light trim back after flowering as this stops that unattractive central dieback and weakening it also helps keep up production of the Oyster flavoured leaves. Much sought after by fine dining chefs, small quantities can be used in white-fleshed Ffsh dishes such as plaice, sole, bream & bass. Fluffy light egg dishes will benefit from a few small leaves scattered as a tasty garnish. Delicious eaten raw with subtle flavoured salad leaves or preserved in vinegar like samphire.
Rumex scutatus ‘Silver leaf’ Silver Buckle Leaf Sorrel (Polygonaceae)
The most attractive of the sorrels to grow and works well in the border in leaf and when it produces those frothy many branched delicate flowers which are followed by interesting textural seeds. Can be grown near the front of the border and benefits from a hard cut back when the plant inevitably becomes worn looking and before it sheds it seeds. Great self-seeders. The decorative ,squat, arrow headed silver sheened leaves are useful to add a lemon citrus tang to salads. When the seed pods first appear they too are good to eat, use scattered over olive oil dressed fresh sliced Tomatoes instead of basil. Even though it looks delicate this is a really hardy perennial herb.
Crambe maritima Seakale (Brassicaceae)
An eye-catching border plant, we grow it in the gravel garden as an ornamental where it thrives. Producing a profusion of honey scented white flowers which are edible and normally covered in bees. These turn into round seed pods that while young and soft can be added to salads, young leaves used in salads, ribs of the leaves blanched and eaten like asparagus. The mature large leaves of Seakale are border worthy to, glaucous, with defined ribs and ruffled leathery blue green too good to eat!
Grown from seed, the outer casing is better removed for a quicker germination and use a good quality seed compost as germination can be erratic. Being patient does pay off as it can take a few months for those first two leaves to appear!
Allium schoenoprasum ‘Silver Chimes’ Chives ‘Silver Chimes’ (Alliaceae)
This is a wonderful diminutive form of white flowering Chives we’ve found it especially likes the gravel garden, while its equally at home in the small herb patch lighting up the front of the border.
Pure silvery white flowers on 20cm green stalks with flowers lasting a least 5-6 weeks from mid spring onwards. Clumps produce 20 plus flower heads. As soon as the flowers fade cut hard back this will encourage a second flowering later in the season. It’s a tough allium and will with stand cold winters but doesn’t like to lie in wet soil through the winter, it can be prone to rotting away. Benefits from splitting the clumps in early spring to keep health and vigour in the plant.
Use as you would any other chives with both leaves and flowers edible.
Chenopodium bonus-henricus/Biltum bonus henricus variegata Variegated Good King Henry (Amaranthaceae)
Also known as ‘Poor Man’s Asparagus’, Perennial Goosefoot, and Lincolnshire Spinach
One of our favourite hardy Perennial veg herbs we have selected a variegated form over the years which is reasonably stable and this is the form we use in the border.
Enjoys rich, evenly moist but well drained soil in full sun to part shade. Deep mulch around them to keep them happy as summer warms. The broad arrow head shaped leaves when young can be eaten in salads while the mature leaves are better treated like spinach. Use where ever spinach is required. The flowering heads are delicious steamed and eaten as you would asparagus with butter and black pepper.
Cut back when the plant looks tired feed and you will get a second flush of leaves.
Tragpogon porrifolius Salsify/Vegetable Oyster (Asteraceae)
We grow this in the border for its sheer beauty and form. It’s allowed to self-seed then edited out if it gets a little too exuberant. Salsify is such a good infill plant flowering throughout the spring into early summer. Visitors ‘home in’ to its interesting distinctive appearance, a stand out plant. Let it produce those amazing seed heads but watch out for the dandelion clock moment as it will spread its offspring far and wide. Biennial it can be pulled out after flowering before it becomes bedraggled and tired.
The edible root is the part known as the vegetable oyster which is harvested and eaten in the first autumn, not so prized here as it is in Europe where it’s eaten like we would eat carrots! Eat the flowers in leafy salads petal by petal.
Kim Hurst along with her Husband Rob run The Cottage Herbery, established in 1976 on the Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire borders in a little known place called Tenbury Wells, specialising in herbs & their herbaceous relatives. Years of information & their knowledge and experience has been captured by Kim in her book entitled ‘Hidden Histories’ Herbs - published by Timber Press.