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Diggin' It

Spice up your garden with ornamental peppers

Ornamental peppers spice up the garden with a hot new look. Not only are the peppers colorful, they're also edible.

By Betty Earl / October 8, 2010

Black Pearl ornamental pepper. This fun and funky plant is sought after for its deep-purple-black leaves and round, shiny black fruit that ages to glistening red spheres. It makes a wonderful addition to any garden or container.

Courtesy of Betty Earl

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Looking for a hot landscape plant? Plan to spice up your yard with ornamental peppers next year.

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After visiting a couple of gardens where vegetables, grown not only for the produce but for their ornamental value as well, were gracefully incorporated into various beds and borders, I decided to add a few “ornamental” veggies into my own landscape,

Though I’m quite pleased with my minuscule additions -- primarily Swiss chard, chives, and parsley -- a recent visit to Cantigny Gardens, in Wheaton, Ill., made me sit up and take notice:

Wow, a glorious bed chock full of ornamental peppers!

Now, I’m a pepper fanatic. Love them in, on, and with just about everything — grilled, sautéed, or pickled.

That said, however, I’m sure I’ve never picked a peck of pickled peppers – and I don’t think Peter Piper was even aware of the existence of any ornamental peppers – but if Peter could pick some ornamental peppers today, he’d have more than a peck of incredible cultivars to choose from.

Members of the Capsicum annum family, ornamental peppers come in a variety of sizes, fruit colors, plant habits, foliage colorations, and varying degree ratings of “heat.”

Generally, ornamental pepper is the term given to pepper plants that are extremely attractive, and thus grown in the garden for their aesthetic value. But these beauties are also edible – although most are generally fiery hot, way too hot for people’s tastes. (Heat is measured in Scoville Units.)

Edible beauty

Ornamental peppers are amazingly beautiful, and one of the most alluring traits of these plants is the delightfully colored fruit that most hold upright above the foliage. It’s as if the plant is showing-off a bit with its kaleidoscope of flashy fruit.

And because they hold their fruit for extended periods of time, ornamental peppers are not only great additions for container gardening, incorporated into beds and borders, or used as nontraditional ground covers, but once temperatures fall below 55 degrees F. (13 C), they can be brought indoors to continue their multicolored pageantry as fun and funky houseplants.

Some of the more popular varieties include

Purple Flash

Sweet Pickle

Little Elf

Medusa

Calico

Also excellent is the Explosive series

Blast

Ignite

Ember

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