Edible gardens can be just as lovely as ornamental gardens, with the added bonus that the plants provide a tasty treat.

Edible gardens can be just as lovely as ornamental gardens, with the added bonus that the plants provide a tasty treat.

Maybe your HOA bans vegetable gardens. Maybe your city or town has written some obscure legal code that literally outlaws veggies. Or, maybe you just want to grow vegetables that are also beautiful. Whatever your reasons, this blog post is for you.

Here are six varieties that I grew last year, and will be growing again this year. Each is tasty, and also beautiful. If the neighbors complain, you can always explain that you chose these plants for their looks, and had no idea they also grew healthy and tasty food. Who knows… They just might believe you.

1. ‘Dinosaur’ kale

Deep blue-green leaves and a stately form make 'Dinosaur' kale (aka. 'Lacinato' kale) an excellent choice for edible landscaping. The plants are attractive throughout their life, can grow quite large, and provide a gorgeous backdrop for the rest of the garden (check out how the cosmos pop against the kale in that photo, for example). Bonus: these tough plants will actually over-winter without protection in many areas.

'Dinosaur' kale is easy to grow and adds a lovely deep blue-green backdrop to the garden.

Deep blue-green leaves and a stately form make ‘Dinosaur’ kale (aka. ‘Lacinato’ kale) an excellent choice for edible landscaping. The plants are attractive throughout their life, can grow quite large, and provide a gorgeous backdrop for the rest of the garden (check out how the cosmos pop against the kale in that photo, for example). Bonus: these tough plants will actually over-winter without protection in many areas.

2. ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ tomato

If you grow 'Matt's Wild Cherry' tomato, watch out! This is the most vigorous tomato I've ever grown. It suckers aggressively, and it's easiest to just let it go. I grew one in the garden last year, and it totally escaped its trellis. Fine by me, because it led to a great discovery: indeterminate tomatoes can make great groundcovers. Just let the tomato ramble and run. I'm not sure how this method will work with other tomato varieties, but it sure worked great for 'Matt's Wild Cherry!' Oh, and taste? This variety produce teeny tiny tomatoes, but it tastes like a full-sized heirloom. Yum!

'Matt's Wild Cherry' tomatoes pack a whole lot of taste into a teeny tiny tomato.

If you grow ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ tomato, watch out! This is the most vigorous tomato I’ve ever grown. It suckers aggressively, and it’s easiest to just let it go. I grew one in the garden last year, and it totally escaped its trellis. Fine by me, because it led to a great discovery: indeterminate tomatoes can make great groundcovers. Just let the tomato ramble and run. I’m not sure how this method will work with other tomato varieties, but it sure worked great for ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry!’ Oh, and taste? This variety produce teeny tiny tomatoes, but it tastes like a full-sized heirloom. Yum!

3. Sweet potato

Every not-allowed vegetable garden should include sweet potatoes. In fact, forget that not-allowed part. Every vegetable garden — regardless of what the rules say — should grow a few sweet potatoes. The vines are gorgeous. The flowers are a lovely purple. And, the harvest is delicious. Oh, and bonus: unlike many veggies, sweet potatoes look stunning right up until their harvest date. No late-summer wilting for these heat lovers. If you are growing just for looks, there are plenty of ornamental sweet potatoes available through garden centers. But, if you want to eat your harvest, you want to avoid those purple-leaved beauties. Stick with an edible variety. You can order sweet potato slips (the "seedlings) from most seed catalogs. Or, start your own. I'll be posting more about this soon. In the meantime, check out the harvest I scored from last year's sweet potatoes, which I grew in bushel baskets. Yeah, I'll be doing that again.

Sweet potatoes may be the ultimate choice for incognito vegetable gardens. The plants are lovely, the blossoms are ornamental, and the harvest is delicious.

Every not-allowed vegetable garden should include sweet potatoes. In fact, forget that not-allowed part. Every vegetable garden — regardless of what the rules say — should grow a few sweet potatoes. The vines are gorgeous. The flowers are a lovely purple. And, the harvest is delicious. Oh, and bonus: unlike many veggies, sweet potatoes look stunning right up until their harvest date. No late-summer wilting for these heat lovers.

If you are growing just for looks, there are plenty of ornamental sweet potatoes available through garden centers. But, if you want to eat your harvest, you want to avoid those purple-leaved beauties. Stick with an edible variety. You can order sweet potato slips (the “seedlings) from most seed catalogs. Or, start your own. I’ll be posting more about this soon [update: click here to read that post, and learn how to start your own sweet potato slips]. In the meantime, check out the harvest I scored from last year’s sweet potatoes, which I grew in bushel baskets. Yeah, I’ll be doing that again.

4. ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner bean

Never mind the neighbors. Plant these beans for the hummingbirds. The rich scarlet flowers are just irresistible to hummingbirds, and will also attract an array of butterflies, bees and other beneficials. The pods can be picked when very small for snap beans. Or, let them grow and use the beans for soups. Just avoid the temptation to eat runner beans uncooked. The raw beans can give some folks a bit of a, uh, bellyache.

Hummingbirds cannot resist the bright red flowers of 'Scarlet Emperor' runner beans.

Never mind the neighbors. Plant these beans for the hummingbirds. The rich scarlet flowers are just irresistible to hummingbirds, and will also attract an array of butterflies, bees and other beneficials. The pods can be picked when very small for snap beans. Or, let them grow and use the beans for soups. Just avoid the temptation to eat runner beans uncooked. The raw beans can give some folks a bit of a, uh, bellyache.

5. ‘Bright Lights’ chard

Here's a plant that lives up to its name. 'Bright Lights' chard comes in a rainbow array of colors — yellow, orange, red, white and pink — and brightens up any spot where it grows. The leaves can be harvested when very small for salads. Or, let the plants grow large (and beautiful), and then harvest the whole thing for delicious sautéed greens.

Early morning sunlight highlights the colorful stems of 'Bright Lights' chard in the Outlaw Garden.

Here’s a plant that lives up to its name. ‘Bright Lights’ chard comes in a rainbow array of colors — yellow, orange, red, green and pink — and brightens up any spot where it grows. The leaves can be harvested when very small for salads. Or, let the plants grow large (and beautiful), and then harvest the whole thing for delicious sautéed greens.

6. ‘De Milpa’ tomatillos

Let's admit it. Tomatillos are just fun to grow. They have a nice mounding and spreading habit, and grow rapidly. Their exuberance is admirable and welcome — no coddling needed for these nightshades. Simply plant them, water them a bit, and then enjoy an abundant harvest of green or purple fruits. Not sure what to do with them? Grab any Mexican cookbook for inspiration. Salsa verde is just the beginning...

All tomatillos provide a nice backdrop for other garden plants, but the 'De Milpa' variety adds a nice splash of purple to the mix.

Let’s admit it. Tomatillos are just fun to grow. They have a nice mounding and spreading habit, and grow rapidly. Their exuberance is admirable and welcome — no coddling needed for these nightshades. Simply plant them, water them a bit, and then enjoy an abundant harvest of green or purple fruits. Not sure what to do with them? Grab any Mexican cookbook for inspiration. Salsa verde is just the beginning…

* * *

Personally, I think all vegetable gardens are beautiful. And, I know plenty of gardeners (and non-gardeners) who agree. But, my Home Owners’ Association (HOA) disagrees. Yours might too. Some HOAs, towns and cities ban vegetable gardens from the front yard (like mine). Others go so far as the ban veggies anywhere on the property.

Sometimes, it seems like there’s a war on vegetable gardens out there.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t let that stop me from growing a garden every year. So, rather than give up my homegrown tomatoes (no way!), I’ve gone incognito. And, it’s working. So far…

Do you grow veggies where they aren’t allowed? Or, have you found some varieties that are especially beautiful? Please share your tips, advice or stories in the comments section below.

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