Your customers and clients can have their gardens and eat them, too, with the addition of colorful, nutritious herbs and vegetables. No longer relegated to the utilitarian plot, edible plants proudly take their place in containers and perennial beds.

Do your clients or your garden center customers ask you for “edible” plants? Maybe not. But we’re willing to bet they want “herbs” or “salads” or “colorful veggies” to add to their backyard bounty. No matter what they’re called (let’s just agree to use “edibles,” at least for the time being), these bountiful plants have quickly become a staple in home gardens. We don’t expect average gardeners to sow acres of corn and soybeans, but the edibles they do grow must serve a dual purpose: Sure, they add a nutritious kick and that special home-grown taste to dinner, but to take their rightful place in the ornamental garden, they must also provide color and texture.

So what’s “in” this year? We turned to the folks at Ball Horticultural Co. to find out. Ball public relations and web account executive Katie Rotella identified five herb and veggie trends that are sure to have some staying power.

The small leaves and tight habit of ‘Boxwood’basil make it the perfect candidate for hedging, as wellas for pesto.
Photo courtesy of Ball Horticultural Co.

Adding glorious color is easy with nutritious plants like ‘Purple Blaze’ eggplant (below) and ‘Bright Lights’ swiss chard (above). A vertical planting of herbs (right) andvegetables is ideal for confined spaces, but imaginethe edge it gives that local chef who can wow dinerswith the very freshest of ingredients.

“Useful” Gardens

These are gardens, of course, that provide more than just “pretty color.” They feature texture and scents for a fuller sensory experience, using herbs like lavender, dill, rosemary and basil. ‘Boxwood’ basil is a smaller-leaf variety that can be used as a small hedge. It produces a lovely scent for entryways, and its smaller leaf size and branching make it almost like a topiary.

Growing Veggies Vertical

Growing “up” is not only for small, urban spaces, but for intimate gardens in municipal settings, courtyards in public spaces or restaurants. What a thrill to see the chef reach over and clip a few herbs or harvest a pepper or cherry tomato. More compact-growing varieties make this possible, and edibles can be found in restaurants and community gardens in decorative hanging baskets or in planters within reach.

Colorful Veggies

We eat with our eyes first, after all! New colors in eggplant (‘Purple Blaze’), Swiss chard (‘Bright Lights’), cucumber and tomato give people a chance to express their love of color beyond “green” in the garden.

Cool-Season Edibles

Ornamental cabbages and kales not only have multitudes of color variation, they have texture interest as well. Because they prefer cooler temperatures, these varieties can be grown and mixed in landscapes when many other varieties are put to bed – even into winter in southern climates. Edible pansies can also add a pop of color. And when planted in fall, they overwinter
through zone 5 to appear again in spring.

Something Different

While the vegetable-growing trend is still hot, appeal to these new gardeners’ sense of “what’s next” by incorporating a few gardening elements that are out of the box: Try making a “Strawberry Salad” by combining lettuce and strawberry in a container for a fresh salad theme. The same can be done with herbs used in pizza or salsa recipes. Arranging herbs in traditional geometric patterns (knots, harlequin, spiral, and so on) provides useful plants in an interesting aesthetic.

Sally Benson is editorial director of American Nurseryman; she can be reached at