Beans in your borders

How to grow fruit and vegetables whilst enhancing your borders

Many of us love growing fruit and vegetables, and this is particularly topical at the moment. All too often however, people envisage a serried rank of raised beds as in an allotment or dedicated potager area, and don’t get me wrong, an allotment is a wonderful thing- but perhaps not what many of us want in our gardens.

Growing attractive vegetables or fruits within planted areas is simple, requires little preparation and looks great. Moreover, growing flowers with your vegetables is a well tested way to reduce pests and diseases.

So starting with beans…I love these and growing them on a support such as this lovely one from Sarah Raven is a great addition to any border.

Varieties with particularly attractive flowers include runner beans such as ‘Painted Lady’, and broad beans such as ‘Crimson Flowered’.

 There are many other really decorative and productive options- sweet peas scrambling up a formal or less formal support will give you cutting flowers over a long season if you keep picking them.

…and this gorgeous purple Mangetout ‘Shiraz’ (Pisum sativum var. saccharatum) is simply gorgeous.

Lots of other vegetables look great and can be used in all sorts of ways. A personal favourite is Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). This has gorgeous flowers and striking grey foliage. The leaves can be blanched and eaten (and are particularly popular in Italy so I am told!).

Asparagus grows delicate ferny foliage after the early spears have been harvested, and whats not to like about asparagus! The foliage of asparagus and fennel also makes a delightful addition to cut flowers.
Herbs can likewise be grown with flowers; green and bronze fennel with their airy fronds and yellow flowers are gorgeous for months at a time.

I particularly love perennial vegetables, some of which are very attractive plants, for example ground nut (apios americana). Ground nut actually belongs to the pea family and is nothing to do with peanuts; it produces strings of edible tubers in the autumn and has flowers of a gorgeous rusty pink. The foliage is really attractive too, and whilst not fully hardy in the British climate it is worth a go in in sheltered locations.

Another lovely one is Mashua (tropaeolum tuberosum). This is supposedly not fully hardy in the UK, but I have seen one growing outside Inverness in the NW Highlands of Scotland year after year in a really bleak position, so it clearly can be when it is happy. It is so pretty it is worth trying through a drab hedge or old tree or fence, and can produce edible tubers (although I haven’t seen these!)

Herbs or all varieties can be freely mixed in, such as all varieties of thyme, and sage, both of which have more ornamental varieties as well as the more usual cooking options, as can mixing in plants sometimes thought of as weeds. Using plants such as marjoram, thyme, phacelia, calendula and comfrey to attract insects and improve health and fertility brings the bonus of flowers for months at a time and the satisfied hum of happy insects through the long summer days.

You may have to choose which parts of your borders this combined veg and decorative planting approach works for, but we find that a mixture makes the garden overall more vibrant and healthy, as well as providing all sorts of delights for the kitchen!

… and petals in the patch

Once you are thinking about the mixture of vegetables and flowers, you will probably want to think about companion planting- where certain plants seem to work well together, “protecting” the other from pests and diseases, which is particularly useful for the more productive plot- a blog on this is coming soon!