Swiss chard and sweet alyssum make a beautiful combination in the edible landscape. But this combination goes beyond “pretty”. Sweet alyssum is a workhorse, helping to grow a more productive landscape with less work.
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At Tenth Acre Farm, we enjoy combining an edible landscape with the science of permaculture design. The addition of sweet alyssum adds spice to a regular row of Swiss chard plants and provides both beauty and function.
Swiss Chard in Edible Landscaping
Swiss chard produces large leaves with bright, colorful stalks. It remains visually stunning all season long because it is heat- and drought-tolerant, and attracts few pests. The cut-and-come-again nature of this plant allows the leaves to be harvested, while the plant remains intact to produce more leaves for continuous visual interest.
I love growing it in my edible front yard. There are many varieties, so choose the colors that you prefer, or rotate from year to year as I do. We’ve grown orange chard, red swiss chard, and even rainbow chard.
How to Eat Swiss Chard
Baby chard leaves are eaten in salads when they are the length of the index finger, while larger leaves are often used like spinach as a cooking green.
Chard is not only beautiful, but packs a powerful nutrient punch. The leaves are high in vitamins A and C, and are one of the best known food sources of vitamin K. Vitamin K is fat soluble, so don’t skimp on the fat or oil, whether in cooked or raw recipes.
Sweet Alyssum in Edible Landscaping
The low-growing habit of sweet alyssum makes it a great border plant. It is an annual, but will often self-seed. Although there are many colors of sweet alyssum and I regularly use them all, white sweet alyssum attracts the most beneficial insects.
Did you know the leaves and flowers of sweet alyssum are edible? They make a peppery addition to a fresh garden salad. I would recommend only eating the alyssum if you grow it from seed yourself. Alyssum is often bought in flats at flower nurseries, where growing practices generally include chemical fertilizers and pest control.
Plant Swiss chard seedlings 18 inches apart, with sweet alyssum plants centered in between them. This chard-alyssum combination works for three reasons: root partitioning, living mulch and pest control.
Root partitioning means the shape and growing habit of the roots of one plant do not compete with the roots of another plant. We can see root partitioning in a forest, where plants and trees are often growing closer than we might plant them in our garden, yet appear to be thriving.
In this case, Swiss chard is tap-rooted, and can extend up to 6 feet deep, while sweet alyssum roots are shallow and fibrous. The roots of the two plants are active at different levels of the soil, and are therefore not in competition.
Plant roots go through die-off and regrowth cycles throughout the season, based on wet/dry cycles and each plant’s flowering/fruiting schedule. The natural die-off of sweet alyssum roots adds organic matter to the soil, feeding beneficial soil organisms that work in tandem to keep the deeper root levels of the chard plants moist and fertilized.
Would you like to learn more about interplanting flowers with vegetables to improve the biodiversity of your edible landscape, reduce maintenance, and increase yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Also see my article 6 Flowers to Grow in the Vegetable Garden.
Sweet alyssum used among the chard plants in this way is called a living mulch. It shades the soil, keeping it moist, which allows the soil to support the beneficial organisms that live in the soil. Alyssum provides above-ground habitat for beneficial insects. Providing undisturbed habitat is an important part of attracting beneficial insects to the garden.
Living mulch will also cut down on weeding. A win for everyone!
Slugs and flea beetles are a few pests that often attack the Swiss chard plant.
Ground beetles and fireflies are the best soldiers to combat slugs. Sweet alyssum comes to the rescue by providing the undisturbed habitat and nectar that the adult beetles and fireflies look for. The adult beetles and the firefly larvae are the beneficial predators that hunt for slugs.
To combat flea beetles, you will want to attract—among other beneficial insects—braconid wasps. The adult wasps are attracted to the pollen and nectar of the alyssum flower, and will lay their eggs on flea beetle larvae. Once hatched, the braconid wasp larvae feeds on the flea beetle larvae.
As you can see, mini combinations like swiss chard and sweet alyssum will reduce garden maintenance while providing a beautiful landscape.
Have you used plant combinations like sweet alyssum and swiss chard in your edible landscape?