Man does not live by bread alone.
This saying about our need for values beyond the merely practical seems to be reversed these days, when it comes to gardening. The biggest trend for 2011 is the return to edible gardening, or purposeful gardening. However much we may love our flowers, trees and shrubs—feasts for the eyes—many new, younger gardeners are jumping headlong into gardening simply to grow their own vegetables and herbs—the desire to create actual feasts, closer to home the better. Your own vegetable plot a few steps away from your own kitchen provides the ultimate in local eating. A whole new generation is excited about the incredible taste of home grown tomatoes, warm from the vine, or snapping a fresh bean right off the plant.
This trend towards gardening for food, is made easier by the growing popularity of container gardening, making it easy to jump on the food-growing bandwagon, whether you have a large suburban property, or an apartment balcony in the city.
With some of the huge, attractive new containers available now we can get the instant gratification that we all long for from time to time. Want a vegetable garden? With a few large containers and packaged organic soil, you can plant an edible garden right away in spring, without having to dig up soil or remove a lawn. You don’t even need garden tools. (Warning, planting this way can be addictive, and tool-buying is almost guaranteed in your future.)
There’s also a new appreciation for the ornamental qualities of edible plants. Ornamental and edible plants are being planted together instead of vegetables being segregated to one side of the garden. I took particular joy this year in growing miniature eggplants. The purple flowers are quite exquisite and the fruits are like long purple jewels, dark and shiny amongst the serrated leaves of the eggplant foliage. They looked fantastic next to a purple oxalis, and herb geranium I had growing in the same container.
Everything old is new again. Most of the gardeners that I spoke to this season were growing some heirloom varieties in their vegetable gardens, some grew entirely heirlooms. Their ornamental qualities are extremely varied. Some beautiful, some ugly, particularly when it comes to tomatoes—from the beautiful, elegant yellow pear tomato, to a tangled jumble of a Black Krim. It’s inevitable that gardens will be a mixture of the practical and the beautiful, when we appreciate the beauty and variety of edible plants. But for now, the practical seems to be the driving force, we want to participate in growing our daily bean. Luckily, because of the innate beauty of many of the edible plants we grow, when it comes to edible and visual feasts, we can have our cake and eat it too.