As the cost of food rises while people are losing their jobs, growing your own food is getting more and more common. A small raised bed or a few containers or a huge chunk of the yard in row crops – they are all signs of the times.
Back in the 1970s, when growing your own food and being self-sufficient were popular, Rosalind Creasy coined the term ‘edible landscape’. She wrote the bible on growing food in your yard, but she gardened in a way that used landscape design elements and principles. The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping was revised in 2011 and is now called simply Edible Landscaping.
Instead of haphazardly gardening or row-cropping, Creasy suggests you add food to your regular landscape design using form, texture, color, shape and bloom times for visual interest. And food!
Growing your own food and landscaping converge
A serpentine border is interesting and creates movement. Add short plants along the front of it. Among your perennials and annuals, tuck in lettuces, greens, strawberries and herbs. Behind them, plant bush squashes, determinate tomatoes, berry bushes, peppers, taller greens and herbs in among your lilies and shrubs. In the back of the border, trellis cucumbers, tomatoes and peas to contrast with evergreen shrubs. Keep in mind these are additions to the flower border already installed or in the design phase. Shorter plants go in front, and taller ones become the backdrop.
The judicious use of planters, containers and hanging pots adds visual variety, just as in any landscape. Imagine a pair of urns flanking the front entryway, and they are filled with basil and cascading nasturtiums!
Fruit and nut trees can replace shade trees. on the west side of the house, they will cut cooling bills, just as shade trees do.
Managing an edible landscape
You don’t want to plant your whole yard, unless you want the extra maintenance of a large vegetable garden. Generally, a typical landscape design is low maintenance with perennials, shrubs and trees. Adding food to it will add monitoring, watering, weeding, fertilizing and eventually harvesting.
But an edible landscape doesn’t need to be big at all! Consider your food needs and how much time you could realistically give to the garden. Starting small is the best way to begin, maybe with a fruit tree or two, and some salad fixin’s – lettuce, tomato, radish and cucumber. Each year you can change your design by adding different annual vegetables and getting adventurous with perennials, such as asparagus and rhubarb. Creasy’s way is to incorporate food into a traditional landscape design.
Some people create edible landscapes, because they want to remove a water-hungry lawn. Grass sucks up hundreds of billions of gallons of precious water every year. It’s a radical act to pull up your lawn and plant food instead! The idea of the fancy suburban show-yard is becoming passé, and people are more interested in utilitarian plants. Similar to the Victory Gardens of World War II, it’s a necessity to have food in these tough times. We need to create our own food security.
Edible landscapes are aesthetically pleasing
We don’t have to give up aesthetics, though! By using design principles, we can simply replace ornamental plants with food-producing plants. This kind of landscaping has a high ROI, too! You don’t get anything out of the expense of a conventional landscape, but you can get plenty of food from a little forethought and effort.
An edible landscape is also more biologically diverse than a lawn or a spread of pachysandra. Diversity means better plant health, habitat for wildlife, and food for your soul as well as your belly.
The edible landscape is not quite urban farming, but it’s a wonderful concept for the city, where fresh produce may not be readily available. As always, before changing your yard, check with your city zoning and neighborhood association regulations to be sure it’s ok. If it’s not, contest it, and bring about some positive change! We all have a right to grow food, especially in these difficult economic times. A little food grown in your yard should not be a crime.