I recently wrote about why I’d like us to stop growing traditional lawns. At the end, I gave a few brief ideas for alternatives, but today my farming friend Ryan Arndt told me about the trend of “edible landscapes,” and I just had to tell you all about it too.
It’s an amazing idea because reports are that a family of four can save $1,000 a year on food costs just by dedicating 100-square-feet of yard to edible plants. If you scoff at that number, then think about the last time you paid a couple bucks for a few sprigs of rosemary, or $3 for a pack of bay leaves. You could can plant a whole bush (and never pay for bay leaf or rosemary again) for $8.
Your front yard doesn’t need to look like a food garden in order to be one, you know. Here are some ideas for how to achieve an edible landscape without it looking like a farm.
Instead of your usual perimeter hedges, consider planting raspberry and blackberry bushes along a fence. Maybe you’re the nutty type and you’d prefer hazelnut and filbert bushes, which both are great options. Natal plums can act like hedges too, if you’re in the right climate for them. Pineapple guava is a great privacy option for fruit-bearing evergreen shrubs for some regions as well.
Even tall vegetables can make for great hedges, albeit usually just seasonally. Think corn, asparagus, millet, and sorghum.
Accent plants are always popular in gardens, but instead of planting azaleas and yews, why not plant blueberry bushes, hazelnuts, currants, rosemary, and elderberry bushes, among others? There are so many shrubs that produce fruits, nuts, and herbs that there’s no reason you can’t have a great food supplement from just a few accent shrubs planted throughout your yards.
There are all kinds of flowers and other edible plants you can embrace too. Everything from arugula to pansies and calendula can be eaten or used in teas.
Forego your lawn entirely, and consider an edible groundcover instead. You can break it up with stone designs, pavers, wood features, and other architectural focal points. Creeping groundcover can be trimmed often, so you’re always eating beautiful fresh growth.
But what about a berrylicious yard? Creeping groundcover can be provided by all kinds of berries, like strawberries, cranberries, lingonberries, and creeping grape vines, like the Oregon variety.
You can get herbilicious in your yard too. Lots of herbs can be grown together and can offer a lot of nice, contrasting low-growing groundcover, often with seasonal flowers too. Great examples include chamomile, creeping thyme, oregano, mint, and some varieties of sage.
I’d personally love a nice sitting area surrounded by herbal groundcover on a nice warm summer night when the fragrance hangs in the air. It seems like a magical thing on an August night, don’t you think?
Beyond the apple tree
Apple trees are common in yards, but there are so many other options that we can, and should, consider.
So many trees bear fruit and nuts that you would think they’d be a common landscaping feature in most yards, but unfortunately we need to do better. Every yard should have fruit-bearing trees.
Pawpaws and persimmon, walnuts and pecans, pears and figs are just the start of the food-bearing trees able to be grown throughout much of our continent. Consider also the mighty berry family. Trees growing juneberries, Saskatoon berries, serviceberries, and seaberries, and all kinds of cherry trees, can all extend your berry-eating season to over six months per year. In the right climate, add citrus trees, avocados, grape vines, and much more.
The serviceberry, for instance, tastes similar to cherries, look like blueberries, but grow on a tree. They come out in the late spring, can be turned into preserves, and more, all packed with powerful healing antioxidants.
Grow a garden, grow your savings
With careful planning that considers everything from usability to seasonal maturation, you can plant a garden that’ll have your family eating better, provide food for migrating birds, reduce fossil fuel use in transporting food sources, and pump oxygen back into the air, all while saving you ridiculous amounts of money.
Our traditional yard choices can be made so much better than they are. Increasing your food independence is a great way to improve your finances and your family’s health, while ensuring our ecological biodiversity stays strong and true to our region, no matter where we are — whether in cities or the countryside.
This spring, flip the switch and start your family on an edible landscape. Fresh foods for a few months of the year along with some canning and preserving in the fall, you might have a year-round food source that will change your lives.