17 Beautiful Edible Landscaping Plants

Chives growing outside
Jasenka Arbanas / Getty Images

It's that time of year when garden centers are full, and you just can't seem to squeeze enough hours out of the day to get your yard done. With budgets tightened, many folks are considering growing food instead of just pretty flowers. But fear not – just because a plant is edible, it doesn't have to be unsightly. In fact, with a little thought you can create a beautiful, edible landscape that feeds all your sense.

I blame the Victorians. I mean who decided that beautiful gardens had to be solely ornamental, and who says that edible gardens can't be beautiful? Luckily, with people getting ever more interested in local, organic food, many are rethinking the false distinctions between beauty and utility.

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Asparagus

Asparagus growing outdoors

one2c900d / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Take these asparagus plants, for example. These could beat any ornamental fern in a stately home garden. And the young spears, when harvested direct from the garden and cooked within hours, are a delicacy that's infinitely superior to store-bought asparagus.

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Jerusalem Artichoke

Jerusalem artichoke flowers blooming outdoors

Manuela Schewe-Behnisch / EyeEm / Getty Images

Everybody likes sunflowers, right? But what about some native sunflowers that are perennial, crowd out weeds, are tolerant of partial shade, and produce edible tubers? Enter the humble Jerusalem artichoke, or sun choke—a delicious vegetable that you may have seen at the farmers market in the depths of winter. The tubers can be harvested as needed during the winter months, and are best after a hard frost. Try roasting them, steaming them, or mashing them with a little butter and nutmeg. A few words of caution though – Jerusalem artichokes aren't for small gardens, and they need well drained soil.

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Globe Artichoke

Blossom of the globe artichoke

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This has to be one of my favorite edible ornamentals – the globe artichoke. Not only does it taste delicious, but it provides a stunningly architectural center piece for any garden. The only trouble is you can be torn between harvesting the heads for the succulent, tender and oh-so-luxurious vegetable, or letting them flower for the beautiful display of purple color. Or of course you can have the best of both worlds—take what you need, but leave a few to flower. The bees will thank you for it.

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Rose Hips

A close-up of rose hips on a rose bush.

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We all know that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but what about the taste? Rose hips can be used to make highly nutritious teas, jellies, syrups and even soup! And rose petals have long been used in Middle Eastern cuisine to make rose water – if you have never had rose water sorbet on a hot day, it's a tonic that comes highly recommended.

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American Groundnut

Close up of the American groundnut, just beginning to bloom

Helena Jacoba / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The American groundnut is a shade-tolerant vine that produces edible tubers, similar to potatoes, as well as a pea-like seed. Some say that early American settlers came to rely on this nutritious tuber in times of famine – so it seems only sensible to have one or two plants somewhere in the garden, just in case.

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Fig Tree

Close-up of a fig on a tree

Santiago Urquijo / Getty Images

Everybody loves figs, right? Well, stick a few fig trees in your yard and you will never buy figs again – in fact you may start cursing because you just can't keep up with the harvest. Luckily, birds and other wildlife will soon clear up anything you don't have time to eat, and then everybody is happy. And in the meantime you'll get to admire this gorgeous, somewhat tropical feeling plant with its big, glossy leaves and succulent fruit. Try adding figs to salads, deserts and even marinades for meat—pork and figs are a match made in heaven. Looking for a way to use up your excess harvest? Fig brûlée makes for a quick, easy dessert treat.

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Rainbow Chard

Rainbow chard growing in a garden

Tristan Ferne / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

So far I've concentrated mainly on perennials, but many annuals can be beautiful too. Why not try planting chard as a border plant around your perennial beds? As their name suggests, some of the rainbow mixes create a beautiful array of color that's hard to beat.

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Nasturtium

Nasturium blooms
Aimin Tang / Getty Images

We are so used to eating fruits, leaves and roots/tubers, yet there is something quite magical about the idea of eating flowers. Serve up a salad that includes nasturtium flowers on a hot sunny day, and you are sure to be the talk of the table. And let's not forget that the leaves are edible too—with a slightly spicy, radish like flavor. The hardcore locavore would tell you that even the seeds can pickled to make a caper-like condiment.

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Serviceberries

Clusters of ripe serviceberries

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Serviceberries are easy to care for, beautiful, and produce a prolific crop of blueberry-like fruits. Also known as shadblow, shadbush, juneberry or saskatoon, it is said to produce beautiful spring flowers, and to provide year-round interest in the garden. Sounds pretty good to me.

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Chives

Chive blossoms
Ken Leslie / Getty Images

Chives need no introduction – easy to grow, tasty and beautiful. They should have a place in every garden. It's worth noting that it's not just the stems that are edible. Next time you see them flowering, try breaking up those purple blossoms and scattering them on a salad.

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Chinquapin

Chinquapin fruit and leaves

Miguel Vieira / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Described as a native, shade-tolerant ornamental shrub, the chinquapin produces small chestnut-like nuts. It seems like an ideal addition to an edible landscaping project.

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Pawpaw

Paw Paw fruit

Plant Image Library / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pawpaw fruit has flesh that tastes something like a cross between mango and banana. They don't store or ship well, which is why they are a rare sight in the grocery isle, but their ease of growing make them a good candidate for home orchards. But be aware that pawpaws are pollinated by flies and beetles, as they are genetically older than the honeybee. So if you are growing for fruit you may want to try your hand at artificial pollination with a paint brush. For this same reason, pawpaws tend to do better if you plant four or more in relatively close proximity.

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Elderberries

Elderberries clusters growing on a bush
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Elderberries are not the kind of thing you want to munch on raw, but they make a great addition to fruit jellies and preserves. And of course that age old country tonic of elderberry wine can be a fun way to use up some of this prolifically fruiting crop. The flowers are edible too - and can be made into tasty fritters, infused sugars, or refreshing cordials.

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Passionfruit

Flower on a passionfruit vine with growing fruit

Milton J. Micallef / Getty Images

Back home in the UK, I always used to wonder whether passion flowers and passion fruit where the same thing. Our somewhat cooler weather meant that while passion flowers were a common site in fancier gardens, the fruit would sadly rarely follow. Here in North Carolina I'm hoping I'll have more luck, as we've just planted our first vine. Sadly for us, good for the birds – the chickens seem to like the foliage.

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Sunflowers

Sunflowers blooming against a blue sky

Karsun Designs / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Sunflowers seem to be one of those plants that everybody loves to grow – even folks who don't consider themselves gardeners. Next time you plant some of these towering beauties, harvest the seeds, hull them, and toast them for your salads. There's a reason they are so popular with the birds.

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Rhubarb

Rhubarb stalks

cjp / Getty Images 

The backyard rhubarb patch is definitely a tradition worth bringing back. Besides the incredible flavor, rhubarb plants offer another stunningly architectural point of interest in the garden.

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Pansies

Light Blue Pansy Flowers
Andy Muskopf / Getty Images

After all the exotic and fascinating plants we've trawled through, it might seem like a slight anti-climax to finish up with the humble pansy. But just like the nasturtium, the pansy can make a great and tasty addition to a salad, or a colorful and edible cake decoration.