You can be one of those people who steps out to snip a sprig of rosemary or pluck a perfectly ripe tomato off their own garden vine. You may not believe me right now, but you will. The secret is all in what plants you attempt. For the beginning gardener, these five easy vegetable garden options will have you donning your overalls and a straw hat (a cute look, tbh) and going full-on Farmville.
If you have minimal space or your only growing area is a very public one (like a front yard) experts suggest a so-called “edible ornamental” approach, where you select plants that look great – and just happen to be food. Think kale, Swiss chard, bronze fennel, and peppers. Perennials like asparagus and fruits like blueberries, pears, and rhubarb offer beauty and flavor.
“Given a choice between an edible ornamental and a non-edible ornamental, I design for the edible,” says Patty Laughlin, owner of Lorax Landscaping in Epping, New Hampshire. “When I introduce clients to the idea of ‘browsing’ their landscape, they get a whole new perspective of what their garden can be.”
A few guidelines: Grow edibles next to ornamental plants with the same cultural needs. As a general rule, most vegetables and fruits need rich, well-drained soil, full sun, and one inch of water per week. Use organic gardening practices, such as adding compost, mulching, and fertilizing with seaweed-based plant food. Don’t use pesticides or herbicides. Transplant seasonally appropriate vegetables into your garden during the gaps between harvests: E.g., plant kale after you’ve plucked the lettuce or Swiss chard.
Easy Vegetable Garden Plants to Get You Started
“When it comes to adding edibles to a landscape, I call blueberries the gateway fruit,” says Laughlin, because the berries are tasty and the plants easy to grow. Highbush blueberries, which grow to 12 feet, are good for hedging. At 2 feet tall, lowbush, or wild, blueberries, add interest to a flowerbed. Plant more than one variety to improve yields. Blueberries need the same acidic soil as rhododendrons and azaleas.
2. ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard
Beta vulgarissubsp. Vulgaris
When you plant Swiss chard in a flowerbed, the veggie’s big, glossy green leaves and brilliant-red, -pink, and -orange stalks give the garden a tropical feel. This plant handles both cool and hot weather, and it likes soil that’s rich and moist. Sweet alyssum and cosmos make colorful companions. Swiss chard grows to 16 inches tall by 8 inches wide.
3. Cherry tomatoes
Lycopersicon esculentum var. cerasiforme
Super-easy, fast-growing cherry tomatoes will keep the garden colorful while producing fruits as fast as you can eat them. There are red, yellow, orange, and “black”—actually deep purple—
varieties, with names like ‘Red Robin,’ ‘Sungold,’ ‘Gold Nugget,’ and ‘Black Cherry.’ Tuck a couple in a border to scramble around black-eyed Susans
This heat-loving perennial herb does best in a warm, dry climate. Its fragrant, needlelike leaves and intense- blue flowers make it
a natural low hedge or border. The cultivar Arp grows upright and can be shaped into a small tree; Prostratus can spill prettily over a wall or serve as groundcover. Rosemary isn’t hardy in Zones 5 and colder, but plants can be brought indoors and overwintered in front of your sunniest window.
5. Scarlet runner beans
Scarlet runner bean is an annual vine, with bright-red blooms that turn into 8-inch-long pods. You can eat the flowers—and the cooked pods when young (before the beans appear)—or you can harvest the dry pods for their pink-purple beans. Train scarlet runner bean on an arbor or trellis. The more you pick, the more flowers you get, which makes hummingbirds and bees happy, too.