Edible landscaping on a balcony? Absolutely. Limited space, limited funds, and limited sunlight can make patio gardeners feel like they have to choose between a pretty balcony and a food-producing garden, but that's not the case. Not only are there plenty of container-friendly garden plants that are quite pretty on their own, interplanting vegetables with ornamental plants can make an edible landscape downright gorgeous — whether it's on a balcony or not.
Good Container Vegetables for an Edible Landscape
Many varieties of peas (like snap peas, snow peas and edamame) are perfect choices for balcony-bound edible landscapes. Not only are peas hardy, productive garden vegetables that require little work, they're quite lovely in their own unusual way. Twining viners ideal for vertical gardens (and blocking out nosey neighbors), peas add pretty, variegated foliage that grows up, leaving valuable floor space free for other plants. My tip: Put a trellis at the back of your containers and grow your peas there. Then plant the front with low-growing beauties like petunias and short marigolds. The ornamental flowers in front will add bright color and texture to the lush wall of green vegetation that flourishes behind them.
Too few people consider growing zucchini in their container gardens and edible landscapes. It's a shame too, because container-grown zucchini are just as easy to grow (and just as tasty) as their ground-grown cousins. And, zucchini's gargantuan leaves and bright, yellow flowers make stunning foliage for any garden, ornamental or not. (Note: Zucchini leaves are a bit scratchy, however, so don't place plants too close to balcony chairs and whatnot.)
Scarlet Runner Beans
So, what do you plant if you want your edible landscape to feed not just you and your family but the birds too? Consider Scarlet Runner Beans. Easy-to-grow, nitrogen-fixing legumes, Scarlet Runner Bean plants have beautiful, bright blossoms that are a known favorite of hummingbirds. Plus, the beans are versatile: They can be enjoyed as snap beans when young,shelled beans if left to mature longer, or dried and saved for later. Make sure that you've got a good trellis for this climber, however, as vines can reach up to 20 feet!
High-Impact Herbs for Edible Landscape
Who says your edible landscape can't be a little exotic? A smart substitute for Dracaneaca (which is just one of many garden plants that are poisonous to cats and dogs), lemongrass is a grassy-herb used extensively in Asian cuisine. And, although it needs at least 6 hours of sunlight a day to thrive, this low-maintenance herb is actually taller and brighter than most common Dracaneaca cultivars. My tip: Use lemongrass as a centerpiece by planting it at the back or center of your planter, and then surround it with low-maintenance, fast-growing veggies (like lettuce and radishes) or pest-repelling plants (like marigolds).
Lush, fragrant and low-fuss, Thai basil is an ideal herb for an edible landscape. It's actually quite pretty, with deep green and dark purple foliage. And, when it flowers, the purple stalk tips are topped with pretty, petite purple flowers. Harvest at will, water well, and dandle incessantly to release its wonderful aroma.
Edible Flowers for Edible Landscapes
Chives are the perfect perennial for a low-sweat, edible landscape. Not only is growing chives extremely easy, chive plants are insanely versatile. What can you do with chives? Well, you can eat the flowers, eat the stalks, dry them, or use them to make all sorts of cool homemade food goodies (like vinegars, dressings and seasoning mixes). Or, you can just sit around and leave your flowering chives for the bees and butterflies.
Edible flowers like nasturtium are another great addition for a balcony-bound edible landscape. Nasturtium offers showy flowers and unusual, round leaves that prop themselves up like teacup saucers. Not only are nasturtium flowers tasty (making them nifty toppers for salads and hors d'oeuvres), most varieties are easy to grow and care for. Added bonus: Since their leaves like to trail, they'll grow over and down your balcony so your neighbors can enjoy them too. Note that it may take some time to find the variety that best suits your tastes because different cultivars have different flavors, but it's definitely worth the effort. My favorites so far? The Whirlybirds. They taste just like radishes and they're much, much prettier!
If you'd like in-depth information on growing these and other garden vegetables and herbs, check out the Gardening Guides page.