Just because tomatoes may be one of the most popular home-grown edible plants, just because straight-from-the-garden tomatoes taste better than store bought (even organic) versions, just because tomatoes are much healthier without commercial chemicals, and are much more nutritious when freshly cropped — these are not the only reasons to grow tomatoes. You can grow tomatoes decoratively to add color and texture to your garden — vegetable garden or flower garden. Consider growing tomatoes decoratively anywhere in your landscape!
You can cover an unsightly shed or block an undesirable view with thickly leafed, tall tomato vines. You can turn a plain balcony or patio into a work of art with ornamental containers filled with these edible plants studded with their colorful fruits. (Yes, tomatoes are indeed “fruits.”) Clothe naked stairways with hanging pots, or fringe the edge of an overhang with cascading tomatoes. You can even grow tomatoes upside-down as a space saver or conversation piece – something that was a popular introduction a number of years ago. Because tomato plants can grow in so many habits – climbing, trailing or bushy — the ways to grow them decoratively are limited only by your imagination.
There are hundreds of ways to design with tomatoes in containers or directly in the soil. In addition to where you grow your tomatoes, you can make them more decorative by how you grow them.
Put them in ornate cages of twisted, metal wires or accent a tropical or Asian garden theme by building cages with bamboo sticks into geometric shapes. Set tomato plants into painted ceramic pots, or march them along a long wall planter held in place by rocks or patterned bricks. Edge a balcony with gaily-colored troughs filled with tomato plants, or spill them out of window boxes.
Tomatoes themselves can be decorative. There are plenty of sizes, shapes, colors and forms that allow you to paint your own pictures with the fruits you are growing. Consider ‘Banana.’ ‘Golden Egg’ or ‘Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry’ for brilliant yellow tomatoes in different shapes. Look for ‘Hawaiian Pineapple,’ ‘Dixie Golden Giant,’ and ‘Tangerine’ for oranges and ‘Dutchman,’ ‘Mortgage Lifter,’ and ‘Soldacki’ for examples of pink tomatoes. Or try ‘Black Cherry,” Black Krim,’ or ‘Black Brandywine’ for deep purples. Then, of course, there are lists upon lists of red tomatoes to choose from. Some of the heirloom tomatoes come with stripes, speckles, swirls or blends of multiple colors. Drape cascading tomatoes over walls, stake tall eight-footers as space-dividers and create rough hedges with medium-sized plants.
Tomatoes can mingle in the flower garden, too. Tall ones can form a backdrop for blooms and ornamental foliage in your favorite garden bed. Mixing vegetables in with flowers and shrubs can be made artistic, and will supply edibles for people who don’t have room or simply don’t want to have a separate vegetable garden.
The herb garden can be a comfy home for tomato plants, too. Basil is a favorite companion of the tomato — both in the kitchen and in the ground. The height and breadth of tomato plants can complement the smaller growing chives, thyme, oregano and marjoram plants, whereas the colorful flowers of rosemary, lavender, borage and so many others, will harmonize with the yellow tomato blossoms to cheer up an herb garden.
Growing your own plants will reward you with tomatoes that will far surpass the generic mass-market tomatoes sold in stores with their flavor and high vitamin and mineral content. And, you may even become a culinary expert as you discover the wide variety of flavors that come with the different looks of your tomatoes.
Tomatoes are easy to grow in pots or in the garden itself. If you haven’t started your favorite varieties from seed during the winter, you can try starting them now. (The smaller fruited varieties are your best bet for planting from seed this late in the season.) Or, you’ll find an exciting selection in retail centers to get an early start in the garden. Consider seeding some of the hard-to-find varieties and buy a few young plants now to start cropping while the seedlings catch up later in the season.
So, have fun growing tomatoes this year. And, grow them decoratively in whatever space you choose. Tomatoes are great for designing, eating and sharing with friends and family.