Create an Edible Landscape

So much good, productive agricultural land is wasted these days on the cultivation of lawns and shrubs. Beauty and bounty can thrive together if you take the time to design a multifunctional edible landscape.

arbor with grape vines
The edible landscape in action: instead of a flowering vine, garden writer Mary-Kate Mackey planted grapevines at the corners of this pergola in her Oregon backyard retreat. It gives her outdoor dining area fresh fruit AND a European feel.
edible garden bed
A close-up look at the author’s street-side border reveals 12 edible plants. On the bottom, from left to right: society garlic, nepitella (an oreganolike herb with a hint of mint), a cluster of sculptural collards, and thyme and winter savory spilling out of the bed. Middle tier: upright rosemary, purple basils, chartreuse pineapple sages, bronze fennel and a kumquat. Roma tomatoes grow behind the fence and scarlet runner beans grow over the entry arbor. The purple verbena, yellow lantanas and roses, and red zinnias, geraniums and dahlias compete for guests’ attention.
Black Satin blackberry bush
A ‘Black Satin’ thornless blackberry bush grows on wires supported by 3-foot-long pieces of rebar drilled into the posts on a low wall. Lavender flowers cover the vine for most of May, and blackberries produce from late June through mid-August. The author grows many edibles in her northern California yard, but few give such delight as this one plant. It stretches 12 to 15 feet, and bears at least 8 quarts of berries every summer. You can let your dinner guests harvest their own berries. In fall, the leaves are a vibrant yellow.
peppers and grapes
Even in a limited space, you can use containers to create an edible landscape. Use bright colors to add excitement and visual appeal, such as these eye-popping red containers, which bring style to entry steps. ‘Hungarian Wax’ peppers and a geranium underscore the red theme and help unify the design. ‘Red Flame’ grapes and cilantro grow in the other pots.
scarecrow and hedges
The charming structure of designer Linda Vater’s Oklahoma City vegetable garden is extremely effective. The flagstone paths, clipped boxwood hedge, scarecrow, arbor and bench area draw you in. Long after Vater has harvested the basil, parsley, peppers and tomatoes, this garden remains wonderfully inviting.
birdbath in garden
Two spring vegetable beds invite you to stroll by and harvest the makings of a delicious salad. The edibles featured here are sculptural red cabbages, frilly ‘Salad Bowl’ lettuces, mizuna, collards, mustards and even the flowers of a broccoli plant. The cook has many choices!
orange sea berries
Sea berry is one of a number of nutritious berries that will enhance an edible landscape. It is a tall, upright and deciduous shrub with silver foliage. The plant has a graceful weeping form and dramatic, highly nutritious gold berries that make great juices. You need male and female plants for pollination. Perhaps plant sea berry in a hedgerow along a property line with other hardy, edible shrubs, such as elderberries, ‘Nanking’ cherries and highbush cranberries.
romaine lettuces
Who would think humble romaine lettuces could form the centerpiece of a decorative patio garden bed? To create this design, purchase an inexpensive, vertical wood trellis, cut off the two legs, then paint it an inviting color, such as this soft purple. After laying it on the prepared soil, plant a single lettuce in each square. As the lettuce grows, continually harvest a few outer leaves from each plant to maintain the design. Oregano, cilantro, mustard, flax and nonedible hens-and-chicks frame the vignette.

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