Color in Kitchen Gardens: Growing a Rainbow For Cheer

An edible garden can be just as bright and beautiful as a typical ornamental garden.

Girl collecting chive blossoms in a garden

 Chive blossoms bring beautiful color to a garden, and are delicious to eat. Elizabethsalleebauer / Getty Images

 

It is common to feel a little low this time of year. A lot of people could use some cheer, especially after one of the most difficult years many of us have ever experienced. There is a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds, but it is important to keep up morale. This brings us to the kitchen garden. Not only can it provide food for you and your family, but it can also be wonderful for boosting the mood.

Colorful Heritage Crops

Chinese pink celery

 Chinese pink celery.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

 

The first way to bring color to your vegetable plot is to choose a range of different heritage (also known as heirloom) crops; the old-time varieties that predate modern agriculture. Carrots are not all orange. Tomatoes do not have to be red. Cabbages, lettuce, and other leafy crops can come not just in green but with leaves in a range of vibrant pinks, reds, and purple hues. Legumes – peas and beans – can have pods in a range of unusual and almost startling shades.

Heritage fruit and vegetable crops allow you to grow a rainbow in your kitchen garden – before you even begin to think about flowers. When choosing seeds, remember, rainbow chard is one colorful option – but there are plenty of other choices that will bring color into the growing areas.

Edible Flowers For the Vegetable Garden

Girl's hands holding dandelion sandwich on a plate

 

Another way to bring vibrant color to your vegetable garden is, of course, to grow edible flowers. There are more flowers that are edible than you might imagine. From companion plants like borage, nasturtiums, and calendula, to typical bedding plants like pansies.

Read more: 42 Flowers You Can Eat

Other Companion Plants With Wonderful Blooms

Other non-edible flowers, and a range of herbs, can also have wonderful blooms. And placing these as companion plants in a vegetable plot, or close by, can also bring bright color to your edible garden.

Of course, they won't only bring visual appeal, they will also attract a range of beneficial pollinators, other beneficial insects, and other wildlife to your garden – and make it easier for you to grow your own successfully, and manage pests in an organic way. Bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife will also, of course, bring more color and visual interest to the space.

Ornamental Vegetables For Herbaceous Borders and Perennial Planting Schemes

Vibrant orange Nasturtium flowers (Tropaeolum majus) in a vegetable plot

 Vibrant orange Nasturtium flowers (Tropaeolum majus) in a vegetable plot. Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

One final thing to consider when making a kitchen garden is that you do not need to have distinct zones for edibles and ornamentals. You can integrate the two. And you do not have to stick to traditional annual/biennial crops.

Just as you can incorporate ornamental plants in a vegetable plot, so too you can include edible crops in an ornamental, perennial planting scheme.

If you want to create a perennial herbaceous border, you can make a beautiful design including edible crops. There are perennial brassicas (members of the cabbage family) for example, and a wide range of perennial herbs, which can look great among typical perennial flowers. You could include rhubarb, artichokes, or strawberries along the front of a bed ... and these are just a few examples.

You can also bring cheer and vibrant color to your life with a forest garden design, or a simple fruit tree and an attendant guild of plants. From tree blossom and spring ephemerals to summer blooms, through to vibrant foliage in fall, and even in the winter, an abundant and biodiverse forest garden is a great way to grow a rainbow to bring cheer to your garden all year round.

Read more: Findings From My 5-Year-Old Forest Garden

You do not need to sacrifice color and ornamental appeal to grow food in your kitchen garden. Choose the right plants and combine plants carefully and your garden can be both beautiful and provide abundant yields. Yields from your garden can be intangible as well as tangible – just look at all the joy that a well-designed garden can bring to all those who spend time in it.

Elizabeth Waddington, February 2021
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