Uses for Annuals

Edible Annuals

Edible corn needs to grow in a vegetable garden, but specialty varieties can be used as ornamental grasses.

Most annuals like the same basic garden conditions: full sun and level, moist, rich, well-drained soil with a neutral pH. These conditions are exactly the ones preferred by most of our best garden vegetables and herbs. There is no reason to avoid combining vegetables, herbs, and flowers in the same garden or group of containers. Breeders have developed colorful types and also dwarf types to help everyone fit vegetables into the scene. You can have an ornamental garden that includes attractive edible plants, or you can have a traditional vegetable garden with a few rows for flowers or with a double row of French marigolds as a border. Here are some quick tips for incorporating something edible into your landscape:

Lettuce grows during cool weather in spring or fall. Even when crowded, it will produce usable leaves, but plants grow better when widely spaced. In flowerbeds, an edging or clump of lettuce does double duty. Leaves can be green or red, frilled or plain, depending on the cultivar.

Radish is another cool-weather crop. You can grow some nice spring radishes in the space you will use later for zinnias or other summer flowers-or for tomatoes.

Beans can sprawl and aren't particularly ornamental. They do not tolerate frost. If you choose climbing types, you can train them on tepees and pergolas for nice garden accents. Scarlet runner beans have great flowers and edible beans, and string beans and limas are favorites everywhere.

Cucumbers and squash include climbing or vining types for trellises as well as dwarf forms that squeeze into containers and tight spaces. Pumpkins take lots more space and a longer season, so they may not work as well for some gardeners. None of these plants tolerates frost.

Parsley, dill, fennel, and basil have aromatic foliage that is handsome enough for any garden. Basil is tender, but the others will survive a touch of frost.

Corn needs space and is planted in blocks for pollination, so the tender plants usually are seen only in proper vegetable gardens. However, breeders offer types with red or variegated foliage that can do double duty as ornamental grass.

The tomato is on everyone's list, because there is nothing like a fresh, sun-warmed tomato. There are many types to consider, from beefsteak to cherry to heirloom varieties. There are also petite types bred for hanging baskets. Tall and rangy cherry types can be trained up a trellis or over an arch. In fact, in the 1800s, tomatoes were grown only as ornamentals (often near outhouses) because people thought they were toxic. Tomatoes do not tolerate frost.

Peppers of all types have good form, are not too rangy, and are colorful and attractive. They prefer hot weather and have no frost tolerance.

Eggplants exhibit preferences similar to peppers. They are very good-looking in any garden because of their purple flowers and colorful fruits. There are purple, white, or streaked fruits, elongated or globular, and even a red form.