“North Americans now devote 40,000 square miles to lawns, more than we use for wheat, corn or even tobacco.” —The Lawn: North America’s magnificent obsession by Robert Fulford
If you are planning on replacing your lawn with something that requires a lot less water and maintenance, but you also want to plant something in its place that is more than ornamental, you have a few more choices than you think. If you can’t or don’t want to plant a full-on vegetable garden, consider planting edible ground cover instead.
Following some of the basics of xeriscaping, ground cover plants are good alternatives to turf grasses since they can be more drought tolerant and, if you have covenants or other restrictions requiring you keep your yard landscaped, they are a good way to sneak in food crops without being noticed. Even just replacing a few feet of lawn around the borders will provide food and add variety to your yard.
For fruiting ground cover, try planting a mix of lingonberries, strawberries, American cranberry, Creeping Oregon grape (tart but edible) and wintergreen. With the wintergreen you can use both the leaves and the berries that appear during the winter.
If you want to stick with herbs your best bets are sage, mint, oregano, chamomile and thyme. All of these grow low to the ground and are good spreaders.
You can interweave a number of these different edible cover crops into attractive patterns or around walkways, stones and pavers to achieve a well-manicured yard that is also edible. And the neighbors won’t even notice.
Photo by Deanna Duke