I’ve always been slightly (okay, a LOT) envious of those people who seem to have a green thumb. All they have to do is look at a plant and it thrives. You know, those people with giant vegetable gardens and beautiful flowers gracing their front yards. The ones who could probably plant an orchid in a snow storm and have it thrive. And while I know theoretically those people (probably) had to learn how to garden just like the rest of us, I can’t help but wish I had some of that mojo every time something I plant just DIES. Luckily for me, the other day I was reading the book Plantiful by Kristin Green, which is a really awesome book full of plants that are easy to grow, oftentimes plant themselves, and will come back again and again. And of course my favorites were the ones that meet all the above criteria, PLUS are medicinal or edible plants.
So here are my top picks of useful plants that are easy to grow. These are great plants for frugal gardeners because you can often beg a little bit off your neighbor and grow your own. They’re also great for those of us without much time, because often they will self-sow and plant themselves for next year. And lastly, these are perfect plants for us forgetful gardeners, because they are perennial and will stick around year after year!
15 Reliable And Edible Plants For The Forgetful Gardener
I’m starting off the list with rosemary, which is kind of ironic, because I actually can’t get rosemary to grow. I’ve tried and tried, and failed and failed. I’m just going to blame my chickens here, because rosemary is SUPPOSED to be an easy to propagate, hardy, happy plant. I’m sure once you get it going, it’s fine. Unless the chickens pull it up.
You can grow rosemary from cuttings, so this is one for us frugal people. Or maybe you’re a gardening ninja and can sneak off a piece in the dead of night and bring it home and nurture it into a four foot giant bush! Rosemary is a great culinary herb and is especially yummy in baked goods, but it also is attributed with some medicinal qualities as well. Rosemary can help improve your memory, reduce stress, relieve headaches and stomach pain, and so on and so on.
Lavender was the first plant I didn’t kill! In fact, that plant is still living right now in the corner of the yard of our old house. My husband drove past it on a trip back to Oregon last month! I’m very proud of this plant. Lavender can also be grown from a cutting, and is good for relaxation and reducing stress. It’s going to grow best in sunny dry areas, but mine managed to do just fine in cloudy wet Oregon, so give it a try!
Figs are a fun fruit, and there are quite a few ways to cook them if you don’t care to eat the fruit straight. These trees can be grown in containers too! That’s probably the best way if you live in a very cold area, as they don’t like winter. I don’t like winter. I think figs and I get along great! You can grow your own fig tree from cuttings! You could technically grow them from seeds too, although you have a chance of growing either a female tree that will bear fruit, or a male tree, which will not. So, that’s a touch more risky.
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Lemon verbena is also known as vervain. It has a great lemon scent and is also known as vervain. Instead of lemon zest, it can be used for lemon flavoring, or it can be drunk as a tea or infusion. It likes to be grown in a well drained area and is a heavy feeder, so make sure to give it plenty of compost! You can grow lemon verbena from cuttings as well.
Mint is one of those popular plants that gets a reputation. Sure, it likes to grow and it’s very enthusiastic, but that’s no reason not to let it into your garden. The bees loved my patch of mint, and so did I. Mint can grow from runners, a transplanted clump, or from cuttings. It’s great for cooking and teas, and just generally smelling awesome. If you’re worried about it taking over, plant it in a pot. Or just harvest it ruthlessly! That’s what I do. 🙂
Sweet woodruff is a pretty little white flower that grows as a ground cover. You only need to plant a clump of it for it to spread. If you want to stop it spreading, just use your shovel and chop off the runners anywhere you don’t want it to go. This plant likes it shady and moist, so it’s perfect to go under trees or in a side yard. The book Plantiful suggests planting it underneath blueberry shrubs. The flowers are edible and supposedly the leaves have been used on bruises and cuts. It can also be used as a tea.
Wild strawberry has smaller berries than what we’re used to getting in the store, but they are fairly hardy and will spread through runners. They make a nice edging or ground cover, and will need very little care from you, except for maybe some water when it’s especially hot. My kids really love going on treasure hunts in the yard for ripe berries.
Yarrow is another one of those awesome plants that everybody talks about how easy it is to grow, but I’ve planted seeds a couple of times and had them not come up. Luckily, you can grow this one from divisions. Just find an established plant, and dig out a portion of it for your own yard. Bam! Yarrow grows well with lavender, and it’s good for medicinal purposes. Butterflies love it too!
I’m sure you know what chives are, and that they can be super delicious. The awesome thing about them is that they grow in clumps, which you can separate and grow MORE chives. Whoot whoot! They also have beautiful flowers.
Fennel can go craaaaaaazy, so you may want to keep on top of this one depending on where you live. It’s pretty easy, just pick the flowers before they go to seed. If you want the seeds, put a bag over them or something. If you do miss a few and it starts springing up all over your yard, just pull up the baby fennels and eat them, or if there are a TON, add them to the compost. Fennel is cool because you can eat the roots, the leaves, AND the seeds and flowers!
Hyssop has beautiful purple flowers, plus it’s a very useful medicinal plant. It grows well in hot dry areas, and is pretty drought resistant. This is another one that your bees are going to love! You can grow it from a root division OR from a cutting.
Bees love borage, and (obviously) has beautiful flowers. It kind of tastes like cucumbers, and can be eaten in salads. It spreads itself through it’s seeds, so let it go to flower! It’s also supposed to be a good companion plant for strawberries.
Feverfew is not edible, so you shouldn’t eat too much of it, but it is used medicinally for, you guessed it, fevers! It has a cute little white flower, and it will spread itself through seeds. I always love seeing where the feverfew will pop up next, and if it happens to be a less than ideal spot, it’s easy enough to replant it somewhere else.
Queen Anne’s Lace
Queen Anne’s Lace is another self seeding, pretty white flower. It’s a relative of the carrot family, and sure enough, you can eat the roots. Personally, I prefer to just let it grow as an ornamental, but it’s always nice to know in a pinch!
When we moved into our Portland house, the neighbor had some beautiful pink flowers growing in her yard. I used to admire them, and pretty soon I noticed that they were growing in MY yard, and UNDER THE CEDAR tree! That cedar tree was a major PAIN to get anything to grow under it, so that was quite impressive. I quickly learned they were Rose Campion. Later our neighbor pulled hers out, because she felt like she couldn’t keep up with the weeding and was switching to irises. I was super glad it jumped the fence into my yard before that. Traditionally the stems were used as lamp wicks. While some places say it has medicinal uses, do your research first, because other places say it’s toxic. It IS however, deer resistant, if that is an issue in your garden.
These fifteen plants are awesome choices if you don’t have a ton of time to spend in the garden, or tend to be forgetful and want your garden to always look good. The book Plantiful by Kristin Green has 150 recommended plants in total, plus tips on growing and garden design. They aren’t all edible or medicinal, but it’s definitely worth taking a look through the book and see if there are any other great additions to your garden.
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