Vegetable garden picks that are pleasing to the eye

(Julie Notarianni - For The Washington Post)
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vegetable gardens can be notoriously scruffy and ragged, especially at this time of year. Or not: By selecting handsome plants, caring for them, and yanking them when they are done, you can make the veggie garden a place of dynamic beauty.

Ornamental vegetables

Swiss chard has attractive crinkled leaves on upright, thick stalks in eye-catching colors, depending on variety, including white, pink, orange, yellow, gold and red.

Lettuce, which is grown in spring and fall, can look stunning, especially when red and maroon-leaf varieties are paired with chartreuse types.

Mesclun mixes typically include an assortment of colorful salad greens, including radicchio, beet greens and arugula.

Cabbages can look beautiful, particularly red-leaf and small, early-season varieties that are quick to form heads.

Kale tends to be more open in leaf and great for fall display into winter. Red Russian has magenta pink stalks and veins on sage green leaves.

Mustard greens are diverse and include broadleaf and deeply cut leaf varieties that look terrific in the cooler months. If allowed to bloom, which renders them inedible, they produce a haze of golden yellow petals at chest height.

Okra is a hibiscus relative that grows rapidly in summer to produce exquisite flowers, a creamy yellow with a velvety purple throat. Some varieties also have attractive maroon stems and pods.

Cardoons are huge perennial thistles with stunning silver leaves and electric blue flowers. They are related to artichokes, and the stems are considered edible, though after considerable preparation.

Many hot, small-fruited peppers double as ornamental plants. These include varieties with white, black-purple, purple and orange fruit.

Leeks are the gentle giant of the onion clan, best planted in spring for a harvest that extends from early fall to the following spring. Varieties such as Tadorna, with a blue cast to the leaves, are particularly attractive in the low light of fall and winter.

Climbing vegetables

Scarlet runner beans, a cool-season bean grown for fall harvest, are pretty, and the young pods are yummy. Varieties are available in red or white blossoms and a combination of the two.

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