For many years I gardened in a fairly small backyard, most of which was under the canopy of a huge pine tree. After a while I started to run out of nice sunny spots to plant. For an avid plant lover like myself, that can pose a bit of a problem. I loved growing my own vegetables, but I also wanted flowers and beautiful foliage. The choice was a difficult one until I realized in many cases, I could have both! By choosing plants that serve two purposes, either providing beauty and some edible portion or having more than one edible part, I was able to maximize my enjoyable gardening space. Here are just a few of my favorite double duty plants for the Central Coast.
Beautiful and Edible
Blueberries. Here in our alkaline soil, blueberries do require a little bit of effort with their need for even moisture and acidic soil, but their benefits are many fold. They start out the year by providing delicate bell-shaped white flowers which later turn into delicious fruit. If you share with the birds you provide both edibles for yourself and wildlife. Then, just when you think they have given their all, in the fall the leaves turn to fiery shades of red and orange, giving you at least three good seasons of beauty.
Chilean Guave (Ugni molinae). Similar to blueberries in look and fruit, this variegated variety gets only about three feet tall and wide. Making it a cute little foundation plant you not only never need to trim, but which also gives you tasty berries. Why buy something like a pittosporum or boxwood when you get this delightful foliage and fruit too?
Pineapple Guava. This delicate looking bloom is also edible. It can add a bit of sweetness to salads or look lovely floating in a jelly. Following the blooms (if you don’t eat them all) you get a tasty, tangy fruit. The grey/green foliage of this plant make it a lovely addition to the yard. They can grow to a height of 15′ feet and have an open branching appearance similar to an olive. They can also be trimmed and grown as a hedge or standard patio tree, but I think their natural appearance is most attractive. Their growth rate is fairly fast, they tolerate all types of soil and only need average water.
Lettuce, chard, & parsley. If you haven’t tried using salad greens mixed in with your flowers, you are missing out. Lettuces come in not only various shades of greens, but bronzes and reds. They can add that much needed large leaf foliage to spice up containers with tiny flowers. The leaves of parsley plants are a natural for adding greenery to your beds. They mimic a fern in appearance but are much more sun tolerant and less fussy about watering. Mustard greens and rainbow colored chards can add drama to the back of any container combo. You can even do them all on their own like in this salad basket.
Roots, Shoots & More
There are several root vegetables that we often forget can do double duty by not only providing us with delicious roots, but also tasty greens. These are a few I like:
Rutabagas. I thought I was buying turnip seeds but it turned out I grabbed the wrong pack which was lucky for me. Turns out I love rutabagas. The greens have a spicy, mustard-like flavor and are great in salads and stir-fry. The roots can be boiled, roasted, or my favorite way, sliced and sauteed. They take on a slightly sweet flavor when cooked this way and I love them served with eggs for breakfast. Like most of the larger root vegetables, you can start harvesting some of the leaves right away. The roots can be harvested young or full size. This allows me weeks of use straight from the garden and without worrying about storage. I have been using the tops and roots of my rutabagas for over two months now. Just pull as needed. (The same goes for turnips)
Golden Beets. I like pickled red beets just fine, but for fresh eating I prefer golden beets. Not only for their very sweet taste, but also their lack of that purple juice that seems to get everywhere. The tops also make a lovely addition to stir-fry and soups.
Broccoli can be difficult to grow in warmer climates. Warm winters can mean that it never forms full-sized heads. But that’s not a problem because you can eat the leaves. A little tough fresh for my liking they add another component to stir-fry and soups.
Peas. You don’t have to wait for seed pods on your edible garden peas. You can eat the tops of the shoots as well. Especially lovely are the tops with blossoms just about to open. They don’t keep well in the refrigerator so harvest them right before use in salads.
With all double duty edibles, you have to exercise a bit of restraint when harvesting the green shoots because these provide energy for the production of the roots or seeds. Normally I harvest a couple of leaves off of different plants at a time. With root crops I also like to plant them in succession so that I can harvest over a longer period. I enjoy not having to worry about storage or refrigeration this way.
Do you have any double duty fruits or vegetables you enjoy? Please feel free to share them in the comments.
Photo credits: Chilean guava by Daderot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, Pineapple guava Wikimedia Commons, Golden beets by Jeremy Keith from Brighton & Hove, United Kingdom (Beets Uploaded by Fæ) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.