Who says vegetables can’t be ornamental? They can be stars of the border.

A kale and cardoon “hedge.” really stands out.

Redbor kale has gorgeous, frilled leaves.

The buds of the cardoon are as striking as the foliage. The flowers are about the size of a baseball. In kitchen gardens, cardoons are grown for the leaves, which have a thick midrib that’s sort of like celery.

Every year, I try something different with the long bed that goes along our front sidewalk. Last year, I got a little wacky and used vegetables: kale and cardoons (a vegetable that’s related to the artichoke). At the end of the year, I was pretty pleased with how it looked when the cardoons were putting out their tufted pink flowers and the red kale had reached 4-5 feet tall.

The idea started with cardoons, a striking plant at all stages of growth. The architectural leaves are jagged and thorny, with a sort of silvery color. The flowers — if you’re lucky enough to get them — are violet-blue. They smell, too. Whether it’s a good smell or a bad smell depends on your nose.

I started planting my 13-foot long bed with four cardoon plants, spaced equidistant. Between these, I added Redbor kale, which I had grown before. I knew it would give the border some height. To fill out the planting, I added flowering plants with pink or white flowers. I used white petunias to keep things interesting early on, while the kale and cardoons were getting started. In addition, I mixed in some pink-flowering agastache, which had lots of small flowers held on long stems. The airy texture was a good contrast to the bold foliage of the kale and cardoons.

The whole thing was relatively carefree through the season. Other than regular fertilizing and watering, all I had to do was trim the occasional dead leaf from the cardoon. Once the kale and cardoons were tall, I opted to stake them with bamboo poles for security against high winds. It was worth the effort because the display looked sharp right on through the first few frosts.

We live on a fairly busy street, so we got lots of comments from passersby. Most of them went something like this: “What on earth is that?”

The challenge now is to come up with something for this year. I’m not sure yet, but I’m thinking orange.

David Grist, Online Content Coordinator, Gardener’s Supply