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edible landscaping kale

(image: F.D Richards)

Edible landscaping is a way to mix gardening with the layout of an outdoor space. Combine vegetables, fruits, and herbs to your flower borders for good eating. 

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In this day and age of food awareness, everyone should have something edible in the gardens. Typical landscape design consists of annual and perennial flowerbeds, shrubs, and trees to create a green oasis and maybe offer some privacy from the neighbors. If that sounds like your yard, adding a few edibles would be simple.

Edible landscaping: why?

The base argument for growing food is being aware of what you eat, and knowing it is fresh and full of nutrients. A vegetable garden is also a buffer against price increases, which occur without failure each year due to unpredictable weather.

Adding fruits, vegetables, and herbs to an existing landscape is a good choice for those who don’t want a traditional garden of row upon row. 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.

Design

Standard design principles apply to edible landscaping. Take into consideration color, texture, shape, size, structure, and bloom time.

Red and green speckled lettuces are a good contrast against vibrant colored flowers. Some varieties of kale are purple which is complementary to yellow. Take advantage of its curly leaves for texture to use next to the spiky leaves of an ornamental grass.

edible landscaping pallet container garden lettuce

Shorter varieties get planted in the front of a border, and they get progressively taller 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.

Cut a serpentine edge to a border for visual interest, especially in a rectangular yard or against a straight property line. Soften up those hard edges with a border of summer squash, raspberry bushes, or fruit trees.

Fruit trees are also useful as shade trees on the west side of the house. This will reduce cooling bills in summer while giving you tasty treats. Trees provide wildlife habitat, winter interest, and garden structure, too.

The changing garden

No garden is static, although some don’t seem to change much during the season. Vegetables, herbs, and fruits will change the face of yours as you harvest the produce. Beans and peas have short windows for harvest, so they will need to be replaced when done. Lettuce may flower and need to be pulled up. Disease or insects may cause plants to die back. Have a plan for replacements – summer annual flowers can replace peas, and fall carrots can replace an early planting of 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.

edible landscape chard

Hardscaping

As in any garden, complement plantings with hardscaping; walkways, patios, walls, and fences. Plants soften the edges of the outdoor built world. Use them together to 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 the lawn.

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 in and appreciate the garden!

Start small

It’s easy to get excited about gardening, but I suggest starting 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. Remember you will have 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!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.