There exists a school of gardening that adheres to the above sentiment. If it isn’t something useful to you, something that you can eat, it is not worth your trouble to grow it. I know such a congregation exists. You see I recently got booted out of a social network gardening group on the grounds that I did not confine myself to that approach.

In all honesty, I have to admit I was not aware of the restrictive nature of the site when I accepted an invitation to join it. The title of the site began with “Grow —–“ and ended with the name of the town. Sounded good to me, an online group exploring the concept of growing things, a lot of like-minded folks sharing information and tips on gardening. What could be wrong with that? A few weeks into my “membership” I got my knuckles rapped because I had posted some comments and photos of nice ornamental plants. Gasp! Apparently not cool.

The group “police” picked up on the offending images of perennials, and informed me poste haste via a personal message that I had better restrict myself to comments and photos of things that humans can eat — or else. Like someone singed by a hot poker I hastily opted myself out of that constrained bunch. I was not mad, just a bit disappointed that what had initially seemed such a simple concept was actually one limited beyond my reasoning. So it started me thinking about the narrow scope to which the group had confined itself, and then I decided to dig into the concept a bit deeper. So here goes…

Is there any benefit to growing things that are not edible?

In defense of the social network group’s premise, growing things that one can consume encompasses a broad range. In addition to animals, vegetables, fruits, nuts and berries there are edible flowers and herbs. There are also plants than can be used to create herbal teas, even herbal medicines that are consumed as opposed to those that are just applied to the body.

It is a big list, but I believe being restricted to only those things that can be eaten is a basically flawed approach to gardening. It leaves a lot to be desired, misses the heart of what it means to garden — and it dismisses the auxiliary benefits of many plants. For example, the list does not account for the zinnias I grow in the vegetable garden. Those brilliant flowers simply buzz with bees. In turn the bees help pollinate the insignificant blooms of the vegetables growing there. Plus those zinnias often end up as cheerful bouquets for the dinner table — not edible, yet a veritable feast for the eyes as well as a real workhorse in the vegetable patch.

Also in and around the vegetable garden we cultivate the highly aromatic Sweet Annie which we believe helps to keep the deer at bay, thereby protecting the vegetables for our harvests. We grow a combination of cover crops for the vegetable garden that strictly speaking are plants we cannot eat. However they help to prevent winter erosion and enrich the soil when turned under in the spring. Both apparently would be verboten topics for the “If you can’t eat it…” group. Yet they are ultimately instrumental for good harvests. The pulmonaria and bachelors’ buttons that thrive around the raspberry bed attract multitudes of bees and bumble bees, but are also not edible.

Then there are the perennials, shrubs and trees — admittedly ornamental and inedible — that I plant and grow and many of which eventually provide food and/or shelter for wildlife. While it is true that those plants do not produce human foods, the visual banquet of seeing all the wildlife and sharing space with the birds and animals is invaluable. In the most strict sense, our homes and gardens often displace wild animals and birds, and I see it a duty of every gardener to help make up for that deficit by growing food and habitat plants for wildlife. And in some instances, like with pollinators or insect catchers we lure to the garden with blooms, there is often a symbiotic exchange providing benefits all around. Plus growing things with the express purpose of feeding wildlife can sometimes help prevent those wild things from snacking on the plants we grow for our foods. What could be more practical than that?

Indeed, into my sunny perennial beds I have introduced vegetable plants and herbs that benefit from their proximity to flowering plants with their attendant pollinators while adding their own textures and colors to the vibrant display. And within those ornamental beds there is a wild mix of plants that contribute yet more textures, colors and contrast, though they are strictly ornamental plants, not edible ones. And the notion of confining myself to growing only flowers that are edible comes across as pure folly if not downright ridiculously inhibiting. Why limit your range when creativity demands variety? Even though we cannot eat those ornamentals, what joy and satisfaction they bring to not only me, but passersby as well.

What all this means is that I see gardening as a wholistic exercise, edibles and aesthetics working in concert, feeding both body and soul. How can we possibly segregate one from the other? I for one could never restrict myself to one or the other, and not only that, I see both disciplines as being interdependent and complimentary. The very act of gardening, growing anything is something nourishing to humans. Personally I see the “Grow—-“ group as too restrictive for its own good, and sadly the members might be missing out on one of the most important — and vital — aspects of gardening. So I say pooh-pooh to the “If you can’t eat it…” clan — and bid you adieu and I hope you come to your senses before long. I guess I owe you a debt of gratitude, because you actually helped me see the big picture ever more clearly. I will continue to grow and post my amiable palette of garden plants, just not in your group anymore. See you on Facebook!

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com or ”friend” her on Facebook to see what’s new in the garden day-by-day.