Vegetable patches are wonderfully productive areas however they aren’t always as attractive as the rest of a garden. With annual plants in different stages of dying back and compost piles they may be beautiful to a gardener’s eye, but they are decidedly less so to a visiting relative or passer-by. As a result, food production is often relegated to the humble veggie patch out back but that need not be the case. What if gardens could be ornamental as well as productive? These stunning plants are valuable additions to any ornamental garden. They are also delicious, long lived, low maintenance and edible.
Figure 1 Jerusalem artichoke.
Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) is a species of sunflower native to central North America. Also sometimes called wild sunflower, sunroot or sunchoke. As a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) they make beautiful additions to the garden, producing lovely bright yellow, sunflower-like flowers throughout the summer months which attract an abundance of bees and butterflies. Unlike common annual sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes are perennials, dying back each winter to burst forth again during mid to late spring with the warmer weather. The knobby potato like tuber is edible and is best prepared as you would a regular potato, by boiling and mashing or roasting. The plants can grow up to 2 metres tall and should be sheltered from very strong winds. If you are planting in an ornamental garden it is recommended to plant them behind small shrubs so that the tall flowers can be seen but they are hidden as the plant dies back during late autumn. The tubers are best planted out during winter when the plants are dormant.
Red Veined Sorrel
Figure 2 Red veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus).
With its striking dark green leaves with prominent red veins, this edible plant is definitely deserving of a place in an ornamental garden. A compact herb producing leaves up to about 14 cm long. The young tender leaves make an attractive addition to salads (use sparingly due to the presence of oxalic acid). Cooked sorrel can also be used to add a delicious tangy lemony flavour to soups, omelettes and sauces.
African Blue Basil (Ocimum gratissimum)
Figure 3 African Blue Basil (Ocimum gratissimum).
This attractive ornamental has a fragrance that will appeal to bees and people alike. Wonderful when planted as borders along paths or as low hedges where it can release its pungent basil fragrance when lightly brushed by passers-by. A hardy perennial that prefers a full sun position to bring out the best of the purple hues in its flowers and foliage. It will happily flower year round in the subtropics but pruning during late autumn is recommended to encourage a compact growth habit. Striking easily from cuttings, this is a plant to share amongst all of your friends and family.
Brazilian spinach (Althernanthera sissoo)
Figure 4 Brazilian spinach (Althernanthera sissoo).
Brazilian spinach is one of the most resilient backyard plants around. It can tolerate a wide range of sun and shade conditions along with drought, dying back only to resurge when the rain arrives. Well suited to planting in dense low garden borders and especially along paths to form a dense green attractive edging. The leave can be eaten raw although they are fibrous and like all spinach contain oxalates so should be eaten sparingly. Watering helps the plant to produce larger, more tender leaves. The leaves are also excellent steamed or cooked as you would traditional spinach.
Old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia)
- Handsome, evergreen shrub to 3 m. Drought and frost tolerant once established. Found in arid and semi-arid regions of Australia.
- Thick grey round leaves to 3cm with scaly surface.
- The leaves have a pleasant, salty flavour, and are rich in minerals, antioxidants and protein. They can be treated as a leafy cooked vegetable, used in salads, with seafood or as a seasoned stuffing.
- Tiny flowers appear throughout the year, followed by fan-shaped seed pods.
- Suitable as hedge.
- Excellent fodder source.
- Attracts bees and other insects.
Cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)
It is worth noting that many other Hibiscus Sp. also produce edible petals (typically the single petal varieties) but care should be taken as not all are edible.
Angular pigface (Carprbrothus glaucescens)
- A prostrate, creeping succulent with long trailing stems to 6 m long native to coastal areas of eastern Australia.
- Large, deep pink flowers from October to January produce red-purple berries.
- Along with the native purslane (Portulaca oleracea), angular pigface is an edible, highly nutritious perennial ground cover.
- Leaves & stems are best enjoyed cooked due to the presence of oxalic acid. The red-purple berries are high in vitamin C and taste like salty apples.
- They require full sun but can handle a wide range of soil types.
- Very low water requirements and are salt spray tolerant.
Pepino (Solanum muricatum) with delicate purple flowers, attractive elongated leaves and delicious melon-like fruit, this shade tolerant groundcover is a winner for the perennial ornamental garden.
Native ginger (Alpinia caerulea)
- Perennial, understory herb to 2m of the wet forests of eastern Australia.
- It has erect stems with large light green leaves and white flowers in summer followed by bright blue fruit.
- Young rhizome tips, buds & roots can be eaten raw and taste like ginger. The white pith surrounding the seeds is edible.
- Nice pool side or indoor plant.
- Grows in a variety of moist, free-draining soils in full shade or filtered sun.
- Attracts birds.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Tumeric (Curcuma longa)
Winged yams (Dioscorea alata)
Winged yams offer an almost instantaneous tropical appearance to the garden. This perennial climber with glossy green leaves and delicate pink new foliage is hardy and fast growing. Not only that, it produces a delicious yam which can be harvested in winter or left in the ground to resprout in spring.
Winged yams (Dioscorea alata) give a lush tropical feel to a garden, with its beautiful heart shaped leaves, that range in colour from delicate pink new growth to dark glossy green mature leaves. This vigorous climber is especially spectacular when grown over a courtyard trellis, giving shade during summer and dying back for maximum sun during the winter months. A hardy and attractive alternative vine for subtropical gardens, it produces a large underground tuber which has a mild nutty flavour and can be used as a substitute for potatoes. A truly prolific edible crop which grows with very little maintenance.
- There are around 60 species of lilly pilly native to Australia. They are rainforest trees that bear edible fruit that vary in colour, size and flavour.
- The fruits of the creek lilly pilly/brush cherry (Syzygium australe) are particularly tasty, as are the slightly tarter fruits of the riberry (Syzygium luehmannii). The tart flavour of many of the fruit species can be overpowering when raw but delicious in jams, jellies and tangy sauces.
- Lilly pilly fruit are an excellent source of vitamin C, antioxidants and calcium.
- Grow in a variety of moist soils.
- Require full shade or filtered sun.
Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) make wonderful hedges and produce delicious fruit during Summer.
Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) in full fruit.
If you’re after a truly spectacular hedge you can’t go past the Australian native lily pilies. They make stunning hedges and respond well to pruning by producing delicate pink new growth. Better yet, they bear deliciously scented tiny white flowers followed by small tangy fruits which can be eaten raw or used to make wonderful Australian jams and jellies. These quick growing and evergreen trees can reach 30 m tall so will require regular pruning. New varieties such as the Syzygium ‘Bush Christmas’ will only grow to about 2-3 m however they are unlikely to flower and fruit as prolifically as their larger relatives.
After something a little more exotic then why not try a Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora). They make wonderful hedges and produce delicious fruit along the branched during Summer.
- An adaptable, shrub to small tree naturally found across northern Australia.
- Grows in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade, though full sun is required for prolific fruiting.
- The small pink fruits are refreshing and delicious, with a flavour not unlike the gin after which it is commonly named. They need to fully ripen on the plant to maximise their flavour.
- These native plants do very well in Brisbane gardens. They are relatively hardy though slow growing.
- Host tree to swallowtail butterflies.