Unexpectedly Pretty, Useful Plants

From tobacco to okra, some useful plants have surprisingly pretty blooms.
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Photo By: Photo by Beth B. Pocker

Photo By: Courtesy Bonnie Plants

Photo By: Courtesy United Sorghum Checkoff Program

Photo By: Courtesy Bonnie Plants

Photo By: Courtesy Bonnie Plants

Photo By: Courtesy Bonnie Plants

Photo By: Courtesy Bonnie Plants

Photo By: Courtesy Bonnie Plants

Photo By: Courtesy W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

Photo By: Courtesy of Walters Garden, Inc.

Photo By: Photo by Julie A. Martens

Photo By: Image courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Flowering Tobacco

Richard Pocker, author of Illustrated Guide to Flowering Tobacco for Gardens, says flowering tobacco is a great choice for gardeners who like plants that are both unusual and beautiful. While some varieties grow to 8', others can thrive in containers. The flowers are magnets for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Okra Blooms

Okra is related to hibiscus, as you might guess from looking at its blooms. This veggie needs full sun and warm weather; Northern gardeners can wait until late June to sow the seeds. Some varieties have prickly spines, so watch your fingers when you're cutting the stems.

Sorghum in a Centerpiece

Sorghum seed heads are wonderful for fresh or dried flower arrangements. Preserve them by spraying them with clear polyurethane and allowing them to dry thoroughly. Use colored spray paints, if you prefer. Here, white sorghum heads were painted green and added to a container of hydrangeas, deep pink Gerbera daisies and green button mums.

'Tristan' Strawberries

You can't beat an edible plant that doubles as an ornamental. 'Tristan' is an everbearing strawberry with pretty, pink blooms and sweet, juicy fruits. Grow the plants in containers, in full sun, to add color to your deck or patio.

Onion Chive Blossoms

Border your flower or herb garden with the purple blooms of onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum). Then toss the grass-like leaves into salads, potato dishes, soups or eggs to enjoy their mild, onion flavor.

Pineapple Sage

With its pineapple-scented foliage and edible blooms, pineapple sage is a sweet addition to fruits, desserts or beverages. Butterflies and hummingbirds often visit the red flowers, which you can cut for arrangements. Give this relative of common sage plenty of sun; it's a perennial in zones 8 to 10.

Dill Flowers

Fernleaf dill is a warm-season herb with lots of eye appeal. By summer, yellow flowers open against the feathery foliage; later, they'll turn to seeds you can sprinkle into potato salad, sauces or dips, or use to make vinegar, pickles or breads.

Thai Basil

Thai basil adds a light licorice taste to curry and other Thai and Southeast Asian dishes, but its spiky purple flowers are also pretty when used as a garnish. If your garden is small, grow these plants, which mature at 1 to 2' tall, in containers.

'Sweet Savour' Peppers

'Sweet Savour' peppers may look hot, but they taste sweet, and they're versatile enough to grow as edibles and ornamentals. These tricolored fruits grow nicely in containers or small gardens. Give them full sun.

'Cherry Pops' Bee Balm

Some gardeners use the aromatic leaves of bee balm, which is a member of the mint family, to flavor teas. But the bright flowers of 'Cherry Pops' also draw hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, and they're nice for adding "pops" of color to indoor bouquets.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Anise hyssop bears lavender to purple flower spikes from summer into autumn. Try these pretty plants in an herb garden, cutting garden or as a border; the edible flowers attract pollinators.

Eggplant Blooms

Humble eggplants aren't just good-tasting; their purple or lavender flowers are also good-looking. 'Patio Baby' is compact enough for containers. And don't overlook the fruits themselves; mini-eggplants make fun additions to indoor arrangements.

Rainbow Chard

'Five Color Silverbeet' is an heirloom chard from Austraila, and it's stunning when compared to ordinary green chards. It's also tender and tasty, great for adding to soups, salads, tacos and other dishes. Grow this rainbow chard to dress up your edible garden.