Edible landscaping, as the name suggests, involves incorporating food-producing plants into a garden design. Landscaping usually focuses on creating visual appeal. But as you’ll learn, edible landscaping can also be beautiful and useful. Mixing the practical and the aesthetic is the essence of edible landscaping.
As a garden designer, I help people come up with such plans. Today I’d like to share some tips to help beginners get started with edible landscaping wherever they live.
Design for the site: edible landscaping options suit a wide range of environments
Above all, it is essential to design for a specific site. The edible options available to you will depend on where you live and the conditions there.
It is easy to see how a forest or woodland environment can be adapted to produce a wide range of foods. But it’s important to recognize that foods can be found in many different contexts. From arid xeriscaping plans to edible plants in ponds and wetlands, there are plenty of options to consider. Even a wild lawn can produce food for you and your family.
It is always important to design and plant for specific conditions. But here are some general tips that apply wherever you are and which plants are right for your location.
Adopt sustainable food sources
No matter what environmental conditions you face, one of the most important things about edible landscaping is recognizing that growing your own food at home isn’t just about growing annual crops in a vegetable garden.
The most well-known perennial edibles, such as fruit trees, fruit canes, and fruit shrubs, can be a good starting point for many sites. But there are also plenty of other edible perennials to adopt.
Be sure to look for perennial alternatives to traditional annual crops when it comes to leafy greens, alliums, root crops, etc. These can look beautiful in a mixed landscaping and provide food not just in a single season, but year after year.
Mix annual crops and flowers
Many gardeners will rely on annual bedding plants (or flowers treated as annuals) to create beautiful beds and borders. But polycultures of annual fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers can provide nourishment as well as look great.
By growing edible annual crops (as well as many perennials) in their growing areas, gardeners can create diverse and attractive displays that are as useful as they are attractive. Annual food production certainly does not always mean growing annual fruits and vegetables in neat, orderly rows.
Layering is important in edible landscaping
When trying to make edible landscaping as low maintenance, productive and beautiful as possible, layering is key. You should layer edible plantings including, for example:
- Productive trees, i.e. fruit and nut trees and trees with edible leaves
- Fruit shrubs and bushes
- Climbing plants and edible vines
- Edible herbaceous plants, both taller and ground-covering species (this includes perennial vegetables and herbs, which grow in a range of environments, as well as more typical and widely known annual crops)
- Edible roots and tubers (and maybe even edible mushrooms in appropriate places)
In every edible landscaping design, it’s important to not only consider each species to include in isolation, but also to know how to combine them in beneficial ways to create thriving systems that can sustain themselves over time.
Plant for pollinators and other beneficial wildlife
When creating edible landscaping, the most successful schemes are those that not only meet human needs, but also the needs of other occupants and users of the space.
Gardening for wildlife will not only benefit that wildlife, but can also increase possible yields in the space. Healthy biodiversity means that pollinators will be present to pollinate major food producing plants and will also contribute to natural and biological pest control.
Flowering plants are not only beautiful; they help attract wildlife. Many who are new to edible landscaping are also surprised to learn how many flowers usually thought of as ornamental options are actually edible. These plants, sometimes called “edimentary” plants, are both beautiful and provide an edible yield.
It is important to recognize that it is not necessary to distinguish between “ornamental” gardens and those that produce food. With the right landscaping plan, a garden can be both.