Texas Cooperative Extension,
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

September 2007

Ornamental Vegetable Gardens for Fall

by Andrew King
Extension Graduate Assistant, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

Swiss Chard
        Swiss Chard

It’s time to start planting your fall garden. This year, let’s try something new. Many of the plants that provide us with delicious produce can also serve as beautiful plants in our landscape. Throughout the year there are many “vegetable garden plants” that can help to beautify our ornamental gardens. For Texas gardeners, September is a great time to try a few of these multi-purpose plants. Swiss chard and red mustard greens are not only tasty, but also extremely beautiful plants, along with a few herbs that can not only spice up your favorite dishes, but your garden as well. Here are a couple of vegetables and a couple of herbs to get you started:

‘Red Giant’ mustard is a beautiful addition to any ornamental garden. It is an excellent companion for flowering plants due to its bold and unique foliage. Growing to 16-20” tall its leaves are wavy and begin to turn a nice burgundy when temperatures dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be planted in masses for a spectacular show of fall color, but also proves to be effective as a specimen plant. In the kitchen, it is most commonly used as a spicy addition to salads or even as a salad unto itself. It also adds a nice Dijon-like flavor to sandwiches.

Swiss chard is another attractive vegetable. It also grows in the 16-20” height range, and is effective planted in a mass or as a stand-alone plant. Its leaves are generally glossy, and range in color from light green to purple depending upon variety. It is the Swiss chard’s stalk however, that makes it a great ornamental plant. The stalks look very much like rhubarb, and come in white, red, pink, and a very showy yellow and orange. Kin to the beet, its flavor is most often likened to that of spinach. It is used in all sorts of dishes, from the common salad to stir fries to casseroles. Two of the more ornamental varieties are ‘Red Ruby’ and a seed mix called ‘Bright Lights’.

Some herbs make for interesting additions to our gardens. Curly parsley is an excellent plant to use as a border for flower beds. It grows from 8” to around a foot tall and once it matures it will make a relatively thick, lush mass of vegetation to clearly mark the edges of your beds. Bronze fennel, sometimes called smokey bronze fennel because of its “airy” foliage, is another showy herb. Its color ranges from bronze to purple. Like the traditional fennel, it has a wonderful licorice flavor and scent that adds another dimension to the food in which it is added.

Red Mustard
        Red Mustard
While growing these plants from seed is certainly a good option, at this time of year transplants are your best bet of receiving optimum yield and beauty this fall. All of the afore-mentioned plants grow best in well-drained soil. The addition of organic matter is also helpful in allowing them to reach their full potential. If space is an issue in your garden, these plants are also fit for containers, either alone or as part of a combination planting. I hope you’ll allow these plants to shine not only in your kitchen, but in your garden as well.

Earth Kind uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape performance while preserving and protecting the environment. For more information on Earth Kind Landscape Management Practices see our web site: https://earthkind.tamu.edu