How to Create an Edible Landscape
In this era of food awareness, everyone should have something edible in their yard. Typical landscape design consists of flowers, shrubs, and trees that create a green oasis and maybe offer some privacy from the neighbors. Adding food plants is simple!
Why an edible landscape?
The main argument for growing your own food is to be aware of what you eat, and where it comes from. When it’s right in your yard, you know it’s fresh and nutrient dense. Nothing has been lost in handling and shipping.
A vegetable garden is also a buffer against price increases, which occur more every year due to unpredictable weather. And the weather is more erratic than ever now!
Adding fruits, vegetables, and herbs to an existing landscape is a good choice for those who don’t want a traditional garden of rows. There is freedom of design when adding edibles to conventional landscapes.
Even in the smallest yard with the slightest landscaping, a few edible plants will add visual interest, and a variety of textures, shapes, and colors. Combine practicality with beauty, and have fresh tomatoes in your salads and fresh-cut flowers on your table.
Standard design principles apply to edible landscapes. Take into consideration color, texture, shape, size, structure, and bloom time.
Red and green speckled lettuces contrast beautifully against vibrant flowers. Purple is complementary to yellow — think kale or cabbage with zinnias. Take advantage of the texture of kale’s curly leaves to use next to the spiky leaves of ornamental grasses or the round leaves.
Plant short varieties in the front of a border and taller ones towards the back. Try for a natural look and feel by pulling some taller ones forward a bit, and moving some short ones back into the medium sized plants. Beans, peas, squash, and tomatoes can be trained on trellises in the back, along with perennial clematis and honeysuckle.
Make a serpentine edge on the border for visual interest, especially in a rectangular yard or against a straight property line. Soften up those hard edges with an edge planting of summer squash or mounding nasturtiums.
Fruit trees do double duty as shade trees on the west side of the house. This will reduce cooling bills in summer while giving you tasty treats. Trees also provide wildlife habitat, winter interest, and garden structure.
The changing garden
Vegetables, herbs, and fruits will change the face of your garden as you harvest the produce. Beans and peas have short windows for good picking, so they will need to be replaced when done. Lettuce may get bitter or bolt and need to be pulled and composted. You may have to trash diseased or insect-infested plants. Whatever the issue, have a plan for replacements. Annual flowers can replace peas, and carrots can replace beans, for instance.
Be mindful of the colors and shapes that vegetables and fruits will bring to your garden as the season progresses. Peppers come in orange, red, green, yellow, and purple. Eggplant is deep purple, tomatoes are red, yellow, and orange, and raspberries and strawberries are red. What seemed like a garden of green foliage will become splashes of color as the plants produce food.
As in any garden, complement plantings with hardscaping — walkways, patios, walls, and fences. Plants soften the edges of the built world. Combine the beauty of plants with the practicality and necessity of hardscaping.
Stone walls create raised or tiered beds for cascading and sprawling plants, such as pumpkins, cucumbers, and trailing nasturtiums. A low border of herbs and marigolds can be the transition from a flagstone patio to a grassy area.
A winding walkway edged with cabbages, broccoli, and perennial shrubs can lead to a gazebo covered in grape vines. There is nothing like a shady place to rest and appreciate the garden!
It’s easy to get excited about gardening, but I always tell beginners to start small. Add your family’s favorite foods to your existing flower borders. Or start even smaller in large containers of tomatoes and basil flanking your entryway. Make sure you have time to maintain, harvest, and cook the food you grow!
Don’t overdo it the first year, unless you are confident of your gardening skills and have the time. Make a garden plan and a budget, amend your soil with compost, buy good quality plants, and let your creativity rip!
Rosalind Creasy is the original Queen of edible landscaping. Her book is timeless if you are wanting to pursue this further: