If your gardening head is thinking, “I should grow my own organic food”, but your gardening heart is looking to drifts of colourful flowers – you can have it all! For extra interest in your borders AND on your plate, along with a welcome dose of companion plant protection. Here are five of our favourite ornamental edibles.
Borage Borago officinalis
Revel in the celestial blue flowers, then add these and the delicately cucumber-flavoured leaves to summer drinks and salads. Mineral-rich borage leaves can also be prepared in the same way as spinach.
This hardy annual is an absolute pollinator magnet, drawing in bees, butterflies and hoverflies by the score. Borage are known to deter common strawberry pests as well as thought to improve the flavour of the crop if planted in or around your strawberry bed.
Companion plants: borage is simply the best company for strawberries
A plant that positively thrives on neglect, nasturtiums are fast, easy to grow from seed and come in varieties to suit any space: bushy plants for beds, trailing plants for baskets and climbers for swift coverage of dull walls and fences.
Nasturtium literally means ‘twisted nose’ in Latin and was said to have been named by the Romans for the effect on one’s sinuses after eating one of the spicy, peppery leaves or sweeter jewel-toned flowers.
The tubular blooms can be stuffed and fried in a similar way to courgette flowers. Or try making a parmesan omelette from the leaves. The fresh green seeds can also be used as a decent substitute for capers.
Companion plants: nasturtiums help keep pests away from cucumbers, squash, cabbage greens, carrots, radishes, potatoes and beans
Chives Allium schoenoprasum
A member of the useful allium family, chives offer great value for any gardener. Tolerant so long as they’re kept well-watered, the chopped stems are delicious with potato and egg dishes, while the spicy young flowers brighten up early summer salads.
Cut the leaves down to the base when harvesting and your chive plants will come back year after year.
Companion plants: alliums are friendly with roses, carrots and beetroot, but not legumes
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
Fennel brings an airy drama to a garden and powerful flavour to a kitchen, year-round.
During late spring, fennel gives us dill-like leaf fronds for salads; in summer, precious bright yellow fennel flower pollen known as ‘spice of angels’ and fat, crunchy bulbs ripening beneath the ground; and through autumn and winter, the skeletal drying flowers packed with seeds for spicing curries and fish dishes
Companion plants: no, sorry… fennel doesn’t play nicely with most other ornamental edibles. Instead plant bulbs in their own container by the back door. The aniseed-like scent will help keep fleas and other pests out of the house
Thyme Thymus vulgaris
Give thyme plenty of sun and a well-draining soil to be rewarded with a mass of tiny aromatic leaves and flowers as the summer sets in.
Thyme has a rich practical history: the Egyptians used the herb as part of the embalming process, the Greeks burnt it as incense and in the Middle Ages people tucked sprigs of thyme beneath their pillows to ward off nightmares. Today, its essential oil, thymol, is still widely used as an antiseptic; it’s an ingredient in Listerine mouthwash, for just one example.
Companion plants: tuck a few thyme plants near your roses – the pungent scent helps to deter blackfly
Unless you have a burning desire to try your hand at a bit of embalming, you’ll probably prefer to use thyme in the kitchen, cooking up some classic Italian dishes or simply tossed into a tray of roasted vegetables.