Subversive Urban Vegetable Gardening: Get around your Homeowner’s Association or City Council rules with five edible, decorative plants!
Many urban gardeners find themselves locked into restrictive Homeowner’s Association rules. Some city planners have criminalized gardening!
I ran afoul of my condo association back in the day, even though my garden was created before the association passed rules against it. Click here to see if you think this green space was worthy of hundreds of dollars in penalty fees.
This Canadian family built an incredibly beautiful and well-maintained vegetable garden on land they own, only to face $300 a day in penalties from their city council. The city requires that all urban green spaces be 70% grass. That is the dumbest rule I ever heard.
Human beings criminalized for performing acts of self sufficiency.
What happened to the Victory Garden?
Once upon a time, we were encouraged to produce our own goods to cut down on our consumption of vital resources. And in this economy, a Victory Garden is good for your wallet as well as good for the environment. Why would any city council encourage people to grow grass instead of lush vegetables, when grass lawns are bad for the environment?
Home grown food is healthier and better for the world. Gardening encourages biodiversity. Did you know most of the vegetables you get in the grocery are not grown for taste or nutritional value, but for their ability to withstand damage in transit and storage? Food gardening is far less of a strain on resources than trucking in tons of vegetables from foreign countries that can just as easily be grown in your back yard, with no more thought or difficulty than growing grass!
Here are five extremely beautiful plants that you can grow in your yard. Your neighbors will never know you eat them, and you will save some bucks at the grocery. No one will be reporting you to your city council for the crime of producing your own food.
The Yo Mack Daddy of uber-fabulous showy garden plants is Amaranth. It comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and styles, most of them sold and marketed solely as a decorative plant. But it is an extremely tasty, highly nutritious native American plant that has been cultivated for 8000 years! Several varieties are common in Asian cooking, but most North Americans don’t even know it’s edible.
Love Lies Bleeding is often found in garden catalogues. It’s an absolutely stunning plant! Yummy and pretty!
The leaves of Amaranth taste like Swiss Chard or spinach, and the seeds are an ancient Aztec gluten free grain. A 16 ounce bag of organic Amaranth seed grain sells in the food store for almost seven bucks. Or, you can grow your own Golden Giant Amaranth plant, and harvest a good 1 pound of seed per plant!
A variety of Amaranth called Calaloo is a common ingredient in Caribbean cooking. Josephs’ Coat, shown below, was grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson.
Leeks cost a fortune in the grocery. I just saw a meager little bunch of three for almost $4 in the organic store. They are incredibly easy to grow, taste delicious, and are also extremely decorative, producing enormous, showy bulbous flowers that last for months. They look like flowering fireworks! We cut a bouquet of them for the dining room and enjoyed them for weeks. The leek flowers that remain in the garden have been in various stages of bloom since May. It is now August.
An added bonus: leeks repel critters. People pay good money for allium bulbs for their garden, but all onions, including leeks, are alliums. Why not just grow edible alliums in your garden instead? Plant them among your tulips and other vulnerable flower bulbs and help keep voles at bay. You can eat them if you like, or leave them to go to seed. They produce scads of seeds and will spread on their own. Oh, boy, free food!
When I went to Funchal, Portugal some years ago, I was dazzled by the lush nasturtium plants growing all over the mountainside. The entire island looked like an incredibly well-planned garden!
Nasturtiums are a native American plant, and were prized by Indians for their flowers, leaves, and seeds. No one in Portugal eats them, and I enjoyed showing my host, Roberto Macedo Alves, how tasty nasturtiums are. And these great recipes will prove it!
Roberto was keen to give nasturtiums flowers a try, so we stopped by the road, gathered them up, then took them to a restaurant to throw in our salad! Now Roberto’s a convert!
Many people grow nasturtiums in their gardens, but almost no one eats them. The leaves make a good lettuce or grape leaf substitute, and the flowers are gorgeous in your salad, as well as being very spicy. The seeds can be pickled and eaten like capers.
Another photo from Landreth Seeds, where you can purchase direct from this terrific company.
This is a very common, easy to grow plant, full of Vitamin C. Almost always sold as a flower annual, it should be treated as a part of our diet.
#4 SWISS CHARD
One of the most gorgeous of all vegetables, you’d never know this fancy thing, with its golden and bright red stems and lush green leaves, wasn’t grown just for show. If you’ve got it in your garden, people would swear it was some exotic import.
The withered-looking bunches they sell for $3 at the grocery are nothing to the beauty of home grown Swiss Chard Rainbow. It is super-easy to grow, and has a longer growing season than spinach. It is so abundant that you will be picking the leaves for months.
The tap root is incredibly hardy, and though sold as a biennial, in ideal conditions your swiss chard patch will last, with little maintenance, for years. Mine is going on four years and I haven’t put a seed in the ground since.
Here’s my patch of chard growing under a protective cover. I prefer not to use insecticides, and this keeps the bugs off. There are plenty of organic insecticides that will do the trick safely and save you the trouble of covering your plants. And you’ll have these lush, gorgeous leaves to enjoy tucked into your flower garden with none the wiser.
These plants can grow six feet tall, and you can either let them reach for the stars, or keep them cut back. They take a lot of abuse.
Get your seeds here at Landreth Seed Company, America’s oldest heirloom seed catalogue. Not only is the catalogue beautifully produced, but it is full of fantastic tips.
Photo from Landreth Seeds.
#5 SWEET POTATOES
They actually sell decorative sweet potato plants in garden catalogues as a ground cover. That’s crazy talk! Why not just grow your own sweet potatoes and get the ground cover and something to eat at the end of the season while you’re at it? They sell sweet potatoes in my grocery for $1.35 each? Hello! Has the world gone mad?
Sweet potatoes are another native American plant that anyone can grow. If you’ve never had home grown potatoes, then you will never know what you are missing. Those sad dead grocery things will never compare.
The only drawback to growing your own sweet potatoes is the plants must be dug before first frost, and the potatoes must be cured before eating to raise the sugar level in the tuber. Boo hoo. That’s no hardship.
Here are instructions for curing and storing sweet potatoes.
Here’s a great post on growing sweet potatoes. Instructions are primarily for tropical gardeners. If you live in a colder climate, you can’t grow a permanent sweet potato patch. You must replant every year. It’s easy, so no worries.
You can easily create new plants from only one potato. What’s not to love about this plant?
In Japan, the lush sweet potato plant was used in an award-winning hydroponic experiment to reduce urban heat. You can see how full these plants get, and what great hedges they would make in your urban garden!
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