Editor’s note: Check back in the June issue of our sister publication Greenhouse Management for more insight into the benefits of pairing ornamentals with edibles.

Adding vibrant and varying colors to a landscape, backyard or container garden is not limited by the segregation of ornamental varieties and edibles. When talking with your clients, have you suggested pairing the two into one integrated system?

Diane Blazek, executive director of the National Garden Bureau and All-America Selections, suggests that growers, retailers and landscapers alike encourage the success of both the edible gardening movement and vitality of pollinators by pairing the traditionally separated varieties.

The color of these petunias pairs well with basil.
An ornamental wavy herb bed features curly parsley, blood beets, dinosaur kale, basil and Swiss chard.
Black mondo grass, oxalis ‘Molten Lava,’ red romaine lettuce, mixed wallflowers, cape fuchsia and heuchera pair well in a large container.

“With the trend of so many people wanting to do edible gardening, we don’t want them to forget the fact that you need pollinators in order to get the produce out of your garden,” she says.

Why pair edibles with ornamentals?

“Why not?” asks Rosalind Creasy, author of “Edible Landscaping.” “The reason why people haven’t used edible plants in their front yards for say, the last hundred years, is because the point of your landscape was a status symbol to show that you had so much land and so much money and servants that you didn’t have to use every square inch of your yard to produce food.”

But now, with sustainability gaining popularity, consumers are making purchasing decisions based more on utility.

“The best reason is extending your nursery dollar value,” says Christina Salwitz, known to many as The Personal Garden Coach. “Our younger customers are looking for things that are not only good-looking but are practical. So they’re very into understanding what the use of this plant is in their landscape, not just that it’s pretty.”

Wellness lifestyle advocate Shawna Coronado also sees the pairing as a way to channel the consumer trend toward organic and locally grown produce.

“Consumers want easy-to-grow plants,” she says. “Some of my favorite tough and drought-tolerant plant combinations include: Swiss chard, purple mustard, blood beets, dinosaur kale, Greek oregano, Malabar spinach, alyssum, angelonia, dwarf bee balm, lantana, lavender, verbena and zinnia.”

Eat away assumptions

“What we’re trying to avoid is having people feel like there is a difference between container plants and those that can go in a bed,” says Salwitz. “They think, ‘Well this is a container plant and so it shouldn’t go there,’ but why not? That’s the line that we’re trying to blur more. People feel like there’s all these rules about what they can and cannot do.”

Rather than viewing guidance as a limiting boundary, providing proven solutions for customers can enable prosperous growth.

“Following the ‘thriller, filler, spiller’ conceptual design idea enables growers and gardeners alike to [place] appropriate sized plants in the right position within a container or ground garden,” Coronado says. “Most herbs make great fillers or spillers due to their bushy nature once the plants fill in. My favorite filler herb in containers and planting beds alike is curly parsley; it has this gorgeous green leaf that weaves through other plants, filling a container thickly [and] chocolate mint is a remarkable spiller in a container garden around a patio due to its delicious scent.”

Strawberry Tristar and lobelia

Creasy also suggests adding lavender at the base of apple trees either in the ground or in a container.

“It’s beautiful, low maintenance and really draws pollinators to your tree,” she says, noting that many herbs are simple additions that take minimal handling on the part of the customer.

“You can fall off a rock and grow thyme,” Creasy says. “I consider most of the Mediterranean herbs as edible plants with training wheels.”

One way Salwitz inspires pairing stylish ornamentals with practical edibles is through suggesting color themes to her clients.

“Say you take a pink strawberry plant and add in pink petunias and a pink rose bush,” Salwitz suggests. “Or pattern lettuces in a checkerboard and surround [them] with herbs along the border.”

For retailers, she recommends creating a powerful visual display for consumers to understand how pairings will look in their gardens or landscape.

“Customers are looking at [retailers’] examples,” Salwitz says. “Show them how to do this with table top displays and [in]your own container designs.”

These experts encourage growers, retailers and landscapers to “think outside the box” and challenge assumed limitations to pairings.

“But don’t pair edibles with poisonous flowers,” Creasy says. “At least not for inexperienced gardeners.”

Coronado says to also keep in mind size and proportions, like indeterminate tomato plants combined with small moss.

“Within a few weeks the larger plants will completely overtake the smaller plants, so they do not display well together,” she says.

Diane Blazek serves as executive director for All-America Selections and the National Garden Bureau. www.aaswinners.com; www.ngb.org

Shawna Coronado is a wellness lifestyle advocate, author, photographer, and media host who focuses on green lifestyle living, organic gardening, and healthy food recipes. www.shawnacoronado.com

Rosalind Creasy is a garden and food writer, photographer, and landscape designer with recognition in the industry as a champion of edible landscaping since 1982. www.rosalindcreasy.com

Christina Salwitz is a home garden training specialist and author. personalgardencoach.wordpress.com