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Fall ornamental vegetables and herbs for your garden

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Tom Woods
Master Gardener

Many may think a vegetable garden is typically filled with plain and boring plants, but that does not have to be the case. There are quite a few interesting vegetables and herbs you can grow in your vegetable garden that please the taste buds and also the eye. If you want to add some visual interest to your vegetable garden, try these ornamentals in your vegetable garden this year.
Planting ornamental mustards and kales in the landscape is a great way to garden in the cool season. Growers should take advantage of the increasing demand for these cool season items because they are inexpensive and quick to produce (typically four to six weeks from sowing).
The Giant Red mustard or Red Giant has been one of the most popular ornamental vegetables used by landscapers in the Southeast. This vigorous growing plant has white midribs with bronze foliage. The plant does well in protected areas away from winter winds. As temperatures rise in the spring, the fleshy leaves expand rapidly, making the plant attractive when mixed with spring pansies and bulbs. Red Giant grown in mass has a striking display, and when used as a specimen, this sprawling plant represents a focal point in the winter garden
Red Bor is a kale variety with extremely curled leaf margins. A tall growth habit and outstanding ability to proliferate in the cold makes it an excellent performer. It also “colors up” two to four weeks earlier than any of the curly ornamental kale cultivars.
Planted in a mass or used just as a specimen in the garden, the purplish-red foliage of Red Bor will provide any dormant shrub or perennial garden with vibrant color. Winterbor is similar to Red Bor in terms of foliage characteristics and cold tolerance, but has olive green leaves.
Rhubarb is an ornamental vegetable that is usually prepared and eaten much like a fruit. All that and it’s perennial in many areas. Rhubarb is a cool season crop that is grown for its fibrous leaf stalks, which are a wonderful sweet-tart treat.
Rhubarb is a big, leafy plant, growing 2-3 feet wide and tall. Only the stalks are edible. The leaves themselves are toxic and are removed at harvesting.
Bright Lights Swiss chard is one of the most colorful vegetables you will find. This tasty veggie develops brilliantly colored stalks with green leafy tops. The colors range from red to orange, to yellow, to purple. One great advantage of Swiss chard is it’s easy to grow. Direct-sow seeds into the garden after the last frost and it will mature in about 60 days.
Purple and red cabbages can generally take a little longer to mature, but are worth the extra wait. Cabbage grows best by directly sowing the seeds in the garden in the fall or early spring. Purple cabbage matures in 45-55 days.
Kohlrabi may look like an alien species, but in fact, is a member of the cabbage family. In German, kohlrabi actually means “cabbage turnip.” Kohlrabi grows best in cooler temperatures, so sow seeds four to six weeks before the last frost date in spring and about 10 weeks before the first frost date in fall. The taste of kohlrabi is much like a mix between broccoli and turnips, and can be eaten raw, grated in salads or slaws, and can be cooked much like you would cook turnips.
Some herbs make for interesting additions to our gardens. Curly parsley is an excellent plant to use as a border for flowerbeds. It grows from 8 inches to around a foot tall and once it matures, it will make a relatively thick, lush mass of vegetation to clearly mark the edges of your beds. Bronze fennel, sometimes called smoky bronze fennel because of its “airy” foliage, is another showy herb. Its color ranges from bronze to purple. Like the traditional fennel, it has a wonderful licorice flavor and scent that adds another dimension to the food in which it is added.
While growing these plants from seed is certainly a good option, at this time of year transplants are your best bet for receiving optimum yield and beauty this fall. All of the aforementioned plants grow best in well-drained soil. The addition of organic matter is also helpful in allowing them to reach their full potential.
If space is an issue in your garden, these plants are also fit for containers, either alone or as part of a combination planting. I hope you’ll allow these plants to shine not only in your kitchen, but in your garden as well.