Growing a Beautiful, Not Just Edible, Vegetable Garden

Beautiful vegetables?  What is she talking about? Aren’t all vegetables beautiful?




For those who live and breathe a garden life and not just a garden life-style, the answer is of course yes.  Even flopping potato vines are attractive when you know that there are forty pounds of soon-to-be buttered lusciousness a few inches under that browning foliage; and there never was a happier gardener than I last summer when I harvested my solitary Tadifi eggplant off of flea beetle-bitten plants.

Vegetables are beautiful, period.

Still, it has to be said that some have an advantage in the looks department. If you’re wishing to create a bit of ornamental in the midst of your edible this year, why not look out for varieties that not only taste good, but make your vegetable beds look like works of art?

Some of these choices come with names you should look out for – particularly if you’re buying seed – but others will delight you without the benefit of a christening. So I’ve given you a few general categories with specific varieties I grow picked out in bold.

Growing Beautiful Basil

If you’re getting bored with your basil, why not try something a little different?  Purple Ruffles basil gives you all the flavor, but adds a note of dark foliage to the garden and is an AAS Winner. Pesto Perpetuo is a bit fiddly to harvest, but wow, what a stunner in variegated leaves of white and green – with no flowers to trim! And finally, a bit of Siam Queen in your garden will elevate your curries and add dark stems, purple flowers and vigor to your herb bed. An AAS Winner and one of my very favorites.

Growing Beautiful Cabbage

Cabbage grown well is a vegetable with such presence that any variety is impressive.  But if you want to bump things up a notch, grab a couple six packs of red cabbage this year from your local nursery or garden center.  Selection is usually poor, but I have found over the years that a six-pack of Bonnie’s anonymous red goes above and beyond during the season.  If you’re growing from seed for the fall, try Mammoth Red Rock or Koda from Baker Creek Seeds.

Want to stick with green varieties but do something a little different?  How about trying Savoy cabbage – a puckered, highly ornamental cabbage with all the taste of your standard varieties.

Savoy cabbage taking texture to a whole new level.

Growing Beautiful Cardoons

Again, if you’re not growing from seed, you don’t have a lot of choices in the nurseries, but thankfully, you don’t really need them to grow an outstanding ornamental edible like cardoon.  Cardoons are one of the top foliage plants in my garden. The silvery soft but jagged grey leaves will take up a fair bit of space, and overwinter in a mild year.  Particularly favored in Europe, cardoon stems are a treat when lightly braised with butter and dill.  This is not a seed you’ll easily find in the stores, but it is worth a quick trip online to Baker Creek Seeds. I grow Gobbo Di Nizzia.


Cardoon is an exceptional foliage addition to any garden – ornamental or edible.

Growing Beautiful Chard

For many, Bright Lights is the gold standard in gorgeous.  The multi-hued stems of Bright Lights give it the versatility to wow at the front of a bed or in an ornamental container with other vegetables or flowers, and those stems keep their color all the way to the plate.  Others to try: Peppermint Stick and Neon Glow.

Bright Lights chard is a beacon in the vegetable garden.

Growing Beautiful Okra

Okra is an inherently beautiful vegetable with tall stalks topped by hibiscus-like flowers throughout summer, but Candle Fire Okra is just outstanding.  Dusky yellow-red flowers, red stems and pods….seriously, other okras pale in comparison.  An AAS Winner.

Candle Fire okra is stunning as a flower, as a pod and as a plant. Well deserving of the AAS Winner award.


Growing Beautiful Peppers

Those wonderful sweet mini-peppers in stores are not just beautiful in a basket or bag, but gorgeous decorating a summer-time pepper plant like it was an Arizona Christmas tree.  I really like Renee’s Baby Belle salad peppers in a mix of yellow and red, but last year also loved Burpee’s Tangerine Dream and Lemon Dream in the form of a Take 2 Director’s Cut Combo plant.


Take Two Director’s Cut Peppers (photo courtesy of Burpee®)

Growing Beautiful Pole Beans                       

When it comes to beans, ‘beautiful’ makes sense.  Picking is the work of a moment when you’re grabbing yellow and purple string beans out of green vines.  Try Purple Pod and Roc D’Or from Renee’s Seeds and your bean-picking kids will thank you. Sadly, these beans lose most of their color in cooking, but luckily, none of their flavor.

Growing Beautiful Pumpkins

If you are one of those odd people who actually grow pumpkins to eat and can, we’ve got something in common.  But I still love me a bit of autumn décor and I’m sure you do too.  Why not grow unusual, beautiful pumpkins that aren’t so warty and tough it doesn’t seem worth it to roast them?  Orange and green speckled Pepitas and ghostly Super Moon will elevate your pie pumpkin patch, and Pepitas produces hull-less seeds – a win/win! They’re both – you guessed it – AAS Winners.


Growing Beautiful Runner Beans

An easy way to pump bright, vining color into your garden, and get flat, Italian style beans in the process.  Scarlet Runner Beans are a favorite of English gardeners for good reason – they’re prolific and will decorate anything from a pergola to an ugly garden shed.

Don’t let them sit on the vine too long however, they get tough quickly.  Most varieties are excellent and easy – I grow Magic Beanstalk from Renee’s.

Magic Beanstalk runner beans creating a bit of beauty in my vegetable garden.

Growing Beautiful Tomatoes

For a clever little patio tomato that has the strength of a strong ornamental plant and a good sized fruit, I’d choose Renee’s Super Bush, but if you want beauty in your indeterminate varieties, I’d suggest Midnight Snack and Chef’s Choice Orange in the garden and on the plate.  Both of these are vigorous – both of them are again, AAS Winners.  Sensing a pattern?

Midnight Snack is one of those tomatoes that guests to your garden ask about and want to grow.


Here’s to a beautiful, extremely edible, garden this year!


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By | 2018-03-15T15:00:27+00:00 March 16th, 2018|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.


  1. carolinestreetblog March 16, 2018 at 6:30 am - Reply

    A luscious, beautiful, edible garden! Cardoons is something I have not heard of here in South Africa. Great post.

    • Marianne Willburn March 16, 2018 at 2:02 pm - Reply

      I’m thinking that cardoon would grow very well in your climate with a bit of additional water. Stunning foliage plant – well worth trying.

  2. curioussteph March 16, 2018 at 6:22 pm - Reply

    yum! Love Siam Queen and Bright Lights myself. Purple Cherokee and Black Krim are my favorite alternatively colored tomatoes, and they are both delicious. Started my seeds this week.

  3. tonytomeo March 18, 2018 at 4:00 am - Reply

    This is a cool topic because so many vegetables are pretty too, although I would not want some of my favorite floppy tomato plants in the front garden. Rosemary is of course a popular ground cover and small shrubbery. Chard is an exquisite foliage plants. Well, why am I telling you? You just wrote about it. Do you think that small popcorn plants can pass as as an ornamental grass?

    • Marianne Willburn March 19, 2018 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      I think you’d want to plant them closer than they should be to carry that one off Tony. Besides, what are you thinking of corn for with all this drought talk back in California? 🙂

      • tonytomeo March 19, 2018 at 10:26 pm - Reply

        The drought is such hooey! It is our normal weather and climate. San Jose is in a chaparral. People who do not like a chaparral climate should not have migrated here. Los Angeles is a desert, and there are more than five million people just in the city of Los Angeles, with millions more around it! There are too many people here using water irresponsibly. Landscape maintenance companies are the worst in urban areas. When I lived in town, I grew excellent vegetables,, including popcorn (although not sweet corn), but used less water than anyone else in the neighborhood. The commercial property across the street dumped so much water on their sloped lawn that it was sagging out over the sidewalk! Now I have a well and a creek, so all excess returns to where it came from, but it is all such a joke. If water is such a concern, people should start moving OUT of California instead of IN!

      • tonytomeo March 19, 2018 at 10:48 pm - Reply

        Did my response go through? I see no evidence of it here.

        • Marianne Willburn March 20, 2018 at 12:12 pm - Reply

          Sorry Tony, I have to moderate comments to prevent spam – and I don’t always get to them immediately.

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