Ultimate Guide To Edible Landscaping Ideas

Looking to find an edible landscaping plant list? Read on for comprehensive edible landscaping ideas that will contribute to a successful, enjoyable and delicious landscape.

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by AdobeStock/draleksun

Looking to find an edible landscaping plant list? Read on for comprehensive edible landscaping ideas that will contribute to a successful, enjoyable and delicious landscape.

It started innocuously enough, when a small promotional brochure announcing something called Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape — Naturally quietly wormed its way, through mounds of unread material, to the top of an unorganized staffer’s desk. “Gee,” that unsuspecting staffer said, “somebody’s doing a book on edible landscaping. I think I’ll drop this Robert Kourik a line, just to see if he knows what he’s talking about.”

We soon received reams of computer-printed manuscript and learned that Mr. Kourik was taking two years off from his regular job to write what could turn out to be the most comprehensive guide in existence to growing vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs for both ornamental and culinary purposes. Reading the draft quickly convinced us that Robert did know his subject, and quite well, in fact. And how did he gain such hard-to-find knowledge? Why, from seven years at that job he was taking a leave from — namely, creating professionally designed edible landscapes for homeowners!

When we finished Kourik’s manuscript, we couldn’t wait for him to get his book into print — we wanted to share it with you right away. So we hereby present some highlights from that 1985 volume, Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape — Naturally. If you’ve ever wanted some good advice on how to grow foods that are tasty and ornamental at the same time, you’ll find it in the following excerpt.— ED

Why Edible Landscaping?

Roll back part of your lawn and renew the age-old tradition of surrounding a home with a productive landscape. Edible landscaping is a way to grow vegetables, berries, herbs, fruits, nuts, and ornamental plants in attractive and harmonious groupings, without the use of dangerous chemicals. As you nurture your edible landscape, it will sustain you and your family with benefits that go far beyond good food.

Pleasure: Many otherwise useful gardening books forget that you, the gardener, are the most important living thing in the garden. Often, they focus only on the plants, omitting the ways you can garden with pleasure in a busy life. If gardening isn’t fun, why bother? Most of us aren’t growing food for survival. It shouldn’t be a chore. Find pleasure in your landscape; play with the plants. Experiment. Break some of the rules. With each passing season, you will find more beautiful and more fruitful ways for you and your landscape to grow .

Beauty: I started experimenting early on with unusual gardening and landscaping techniques, colorful vegetables, and exotic food plants. My work — and the work of other edible landscape designers — has begun to prove that landscapes can be ornamental and tasty, colorful and useful.

When my landscape maintenance business first began, I took care of completely ornamental landscapes. Over time, more and more clients wanted vegetable gardens, but I noticed that too often the vegetable garden was treated like a second-class landscape, hidden away behind the dog pen or garage.

I soon realized there is nothing second-class about food plants, and that I could design and plant an edible and gorgeous landscape. The beauty and variety of a well-designed edible landscape really impress my clients and their friends and visitors.

A good traditional ornamental landscape combines colors, textures, smells, and sounds, but usually neglects flavors. Your edible landscape will stimulate all the senses — fragrant daylilies for the flower order that can be used in salads or stuffed with herb cheeses, a colorful ground cover of a variegated gold and green thyme for soups and casseroles, a soft herbal sitting bench planted with chamomile that can be harvested for tea, a cool, relaxing arbor laden with the fruits of kiwi vines and grapevines. The possibilities are endless.

There are hundreds of examples of food plants that add color to your landscape:

Vegetables: Ornamental kale provides a spectacular display of fall and spring color, and it has the same taste as garden kale. When planted among lettuce, ornamental kale provides a beautiful contrast in color and form.

Ruby chard, `Romanesco’ broccoli, nasturtiums, and `Radicchio’ (an Italian red-leaved chicory) are all true ornamentals, and they’re edible too.

Liberated from the conventional garden, colorful vegetables have a place in the edible landscape.

Perennial Edibles: There are many perennial edibles that have as much color as ornamentals.

The silver-grey highlights of artichokes and the bold pattern of their leaves are as dramatic a show as any plant makes.

The fiery fall colors of an Oriental chestnut (Castanea mollissima), Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia), cherry (Prunus avium), or peach (Prunus persica) are as impressive as those of virtually any ornamental shade tree.

Ripe Oriental persimmons (Diospyros kaki) hanging on the bare branches of a fog-shrouded tree are indeed a magical sight. The glossy green leaves and spectacular fall color add their highlights in season.

If you like the formal look, both rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and the silver-grey-leaved pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana — for warm-winter climates) are easily sheared to almost any form. The genetic dwarf peaches and nectarines are well behaved, dense, shrublike fruit trees. The hot pink, double flowers of the genetic dwarf ‘Garden Beauty’ nectarine are some of the most dazzling to be found.

An edible landscape can be small, but elegant and picturesque. Consider the appeal of the landscape planted by Helen Malcolm-Neeb near Big Sur, California. A radiant mixture of colorful red chard, two kinds of lettuce, narrow-leaved chives, and edible violas mingles with the ornamental blossoms of alyssum. All are arranged, reminiscent of a flower bouquet, beneath a young miniature `Garden Prince’ almond, which displays a delicate pink blossom each spring.

It’s time for the prejudice against edibles as ornamentals to wither and be replaced by the respect they deserve as landscape plants.

Taste Appeal: My garden is beautiful, but it is also for flavor. Different, better tastes. The kind of flavor no grocery store could possibly offer.

Homegrown tastes best. My reason for starting to garden was to have those homegrown tastes no money can buy. A store-bought `Granny Smith’ apple is good, but one fresh-picked from the tree and fully ripe is superb.

And I can grow flavors not to be found in any market. ‘Anoka’, an obscure apple unfamiliar to commercial production, has great flavor and more crispness than a crackling watermelon. The Asian pear called ‘Hosui’ is even more exotic. You would be able to smell the fragrance, laced with the aroma of allspice, from several feet away as I bit into the extra crunchy, juicy fruit.

In the store, lemon and basil are separate flavors. The lemon basil I grow provides a delightful, unique blend of both tastes when added to sauces or salads.

To me, there is no question. If you want real flavor, you have to grow your own.

Independence: If you grow a part of your own food, you have a measure of independence. And the skill to grow more if need be. An edible landscape produces more calories than it consumes and can make suburban lawns into food-producing areas, and suburb dwellers into growers, not just consumers. An edible landscape can add to the value of your property and improve your family’s balance of payments, as well as the nation’s.

Health: I have always grown vegetables around my house using organic or biological methods because I want safe, clean food. Growing as much of your own food as you can without chemicals is the one sure way to protect your family’s health. But don’t stop with the vegetables. Use safe, nontoxic methods for your entire yard.

Variety: If agriculture were a true service to consumers, the variety of food it offered would be increasing, not narrowing. There are 3,000 to 10,000 edible plants in the world (depending upon who is doing the estimating), but the National Academy of Sciences estimated in 1975 that only 150 edible plants have had any large-scale use worldwide. Worse still, the diet of most of the world’s people consists of about 20 basic foods. The report cautions, “These plants are the main bulwark between mankind and starvation. It is a very small bastion.” Gazing from my desk out the window, I count over 60 types of vegetables, fruits, and nuts growing in my newest edible landscape. By next year, the variety it offers me will have doubled. That’s my kind of landscape — one I can count on to provide me with plentiful, healthy food.

The New Approach to Edible Landscapes: Synergy

Landscaping, like so much of our modern lifestyle, has been shattered into separate pieces. A single row of junipers along the driveway. A vegetable patch here. A few flowers over there. A lone fruit tree neglected in the backyard. But nature works as a whole, a community — not pieces cast asunder. We can follow nature’s example in planning an edible landscape. My approach to edible landscaping aims to arrange all the plants and structures into a unified, biologically dynamic whole.

An active, interdependent system is more effective than the sum of its parts — a benefit called synergy. Properly designed, the edible landscape produces synergy; my book reviews many of the examples of synergy I have observed, discovered, or borrowed in the course of my work as an edible-landscaper. For now, let me describe an edible landscape I designed and installed in 1978 for Mr. and Mrs. John Kelley.

Cascading down the south side of their hillside property, is designed to be viewed from the Kelley’s dining room and summer veranda. The 1,000-square-foot landscape holds vegetables, culinary herbs, fruit and nut trees, ornamental flowers, composting bins, medicinal plants, and erosion-controlling ground covers.

The upper vegetable area is very close to the back door, for convenient harvesting. A short path leads from the kitchen to a discreet, fully enclosed set of compost bins.

Three 100-square-foot beds of intensive vegetable culture are terraced down the slope. They provide more fresh produce than the Kelleys can eat — much is given to relatives and friends, and some surplus is composted to help recycle nutrients to the soil.

The vegetable beds are framed by colorful herbaceous borders, with plants chosen for a variety of characteristics and functions: for cut flowers, edible flowers, and herbal teas, and to provide drought resistance and as many types of pollen and nectar as possible. The pollens and nectars lure beneficial insects to the garden throughout the year. The beneficial insects — among them hover flies, green lacewings, aphid wasps, snake flies, tachinid flies, and braconid wasps — help control aphids, tomato hornworms, mealybugs, and various caterpillars within the edible landscape. Some of the plants that attract beneficial insects are white clover (Trifolium repens), yarrow (Achillea sp.), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), rue (Ruta graveolens), snowberry (Symphoricarpos sp.), ivy (Hedera sp. — mature plants with blooms), silver lace vine (Polygonum aubertii), tree of heaven (Ailanthus a/tissima), angelica (Angelica sp.), and wild carrot (Daucus carota).

Other flowers were included to attract bees and ensure that the fruits, nuts, and vegetables were pollinated. These include borage (Baraga officinalis), white clover, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), flax (Linum usitatissimum), bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), clary sage (Salvia sclarea), winter savory (Satureja douglasii), and creeping and common thyme (Thymus serpyllum and T. vulgaris, respectively). And some of these are edible and useful as spices and herbal teas.

Multipurpose Elements

Multipurpose plants are, of course, only part of a synergistic landscape. Surrounding the vegetable terraces of the Kelleys’ landscape are flagstone paths set in packed, crushed rock. The crushed rock also allows rainwater and irrigation water to percolate into the soil below, where they are stored for the plants’ use. And the crushed rock discourages runoff, reducing erosion.

Extensive use of stone helps warm the landscape, which is located in a mild, coastal climate. The grey flagstones absorb the sun’s warmth, yet reflect some sunlight upward to enhance the growth of the vegetables. The heat absorbed by the stones each day radiates into the garden at night. These vegetable terraces ripen food one to two weeks earlier than nearby vegetable gardens without stone paths, and continue bearing several weeks longer in the fall.

The Subtle Difference

Aim for a beautiful edible landscape, one where the harmonious association of all living and structural parts is a beauty unto itself. With nature as a source of inspiration, using nonpoisonous gardening methods, working to find new ways to make everything function as a coordinated whole, you will be healthier and your surroundings more beautiful.

Multiple Functions

A great way to get more variety in a limited space is to use those plants that themselves have variety. Just as a greenhouse can be used to propagate seedlings in the spring, dry fruits and nuts for storage in late summer, and warm the house in winter, so certain plants can serve several purposes at once. The hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicijolia), for example, makes a dense privacy hedge, has edible fruits, increases the bird population, and can attract beneficial insects with its blossoms.

Multiple-Use Annuals

The simplest way to add variety to your food supply is to plant multipurpose annual vegetables. Many common vegetables have edible leaves, such as beets, all members of the Brassica family, carrots, celeriac, celery, chard, kohlrabi, radishes, and sea kale. Notice that some serve other useful functions as well. I like to grow many of the ornamentals that have edible flowers or leaves. Any salad is more exciting sprinkled with a rainbow of colorful petals from nasturtiums, chives, and petunias. Other examples of edible flowers are daylilies, calendulas, violas, and roses.

Multiple-Use Perennials

There are multipurpose perennials, too. One of my favorites is the chayote (Sechium edule). An expert on rare fruits, Paul Jackson, taught me the uses of this champion of mutipurpose plants. The fruit of a chayote ranges from smooth-skinned to spiny and from light to dark green, weighs up to a pound, and resembles a pear-shaped squash. The flesh is crisp, moist, and rather bland, much like a zucchini. I think the single soft seed, with its nutlike flavor, is the tastiest part. A three-year-old vine in southern California can produce 200 to 300 fruits. That’s a lot of fruit and seeds! The first four to six inches of any leading tip of the vine can be steamed and eaten as a vegetable. Since the vine can cover over 400 square feet in a single season, that’s a huge amount of steamed greens, too. With Paul’s help and through our own experimentation, my friends and I have sampled almost two dozen dishes using chayote as a major ingredient. My two favorite recipes are an eggplant Parmesan with chayote substituting for the eggplant, and the soft seeds marinated in an herbal vinaigrette.

I like perennial alternatives to some of the annuals. I grow Oriental garlic chives as a substitute for garlic, Egyptian top-set onions and chives for an onion flavor, comfrey for salad greens, daylilies for their colorful blossoms and edible tubers (tasting somewhat like a potato), dock and dandelion greens, salad burnet for garnishing salads, chayote for a zucchini substitute and for the steamed greens, and nasturtiums (which grow like perennials in our moderate California coastal climate) for a spicy flavor and a colorful highlight. All of these perennials are useful in themselves, and can serve as substitutes if an annual equivalent fails.

More than Just Edible

The multipurpose plants in an edible landscape can have a broad range of influences. There are plants that can shape the wind and sunlight (such as Russian olive and Siberian pea shrub) or improve the soil (fava bean, chicory, and dandelion); plants to be cut as mulch or added to the compost pile (comfrey and fava bean); plants for wildlife (Russian olive and rose hips); trees and shrubs for fuel (if there is plenty of room, black locust); plants which attract beneficial predators, lure pollinating bees, and can be used in homemade concoctions to repel pests; and plants for feeding small animals such as rabbits or chickens (comfrey, Siberian pea shrub, and rose hips).

Low Maintenance

A real concern is fitting a food-producing landscape into our busy lives. In my experience, the single greatest cause for the demise of an edible landscape is the burden it imposes on the homeowner. The amount of effort needed to sustain a landscape or garden is perhaps the single most important consideration in edible landscape design. Planting happens quickly, at the peak of the gardener’s enthusiasm. Maintenance usually ends up being crammed into busy everyday life. It is tragic to watch someone’s source of joy and wholehearted passion turn into drudgery and burden. So often, ambitious gardens that have become too difficult to properly maintain are neglected, rather than scaled back to a manageable size.

By carefully selecting the edibles you plant, you can greatly reduce your maintenance efforts. Some gardeners will do anything to produce a succulent, tree-ripened apricot. (I do not recommend planting apricots in northern California, because they are prone to many serious disease problems there.) An uncommon but more prudent approach would be to make choices about effort first, and about taste second.

The plants listed should be used as a point of departure. While these plants are likely to escape the ravages of seasonal disease and pest infestations, there may be special considerations in your area. Check with local nurseries and landscapers for details.

Invest in Low Maintenance

I’m fond of saying, “You have to spend money to save time and money.” I have seen cases where doubling the initial cost has reduced the ongoing yearly effort required for maintenance by much more than half. The difficulty with this approach is that the savings in effort and time are not initially as tangible as the lighter wallet.

I usually encourage people to spend more money and apply greater effort at the beginning, because I have seen too many edible landscapers crumble under the weight of daily maintenance. Sometimes, small details make a big difference. I once installed some vegetable terraces where there previously had been no garden. I argued strongly that summertime watering would attract gophers, but the client did not want the extra cost of putting aviary wire beneath the wooden boxes. By the second year, gophers were so numerous that the client dug out an entire 1000-square-foot terrace two and a half feet deep, put in aviary wire, and refilled it! Hundreds of dollars worth of time were lost to make up for not spending $25 and less than an hour of labor.

Guidelines for Functional Landscape Design

I feel that the best edible landscapes keep maintenance sensibly low by giving a slightly greater priority to function than to form. I can explain what I mean in a few guidelines. The first three are the ones most often ignored by novices. The remainder are important to consider, though not by any means ironclad rules.

Streamline your landscape.

Not every plant need be edible. It takes an exceptional person, or special circumstances, to make a success of a landscape that is bigger than 1,200 square feet and almost 100% edible. In my experience, it is best to have no more than 50% of the perennial plants be edibles, and no more than 50% of the whole yard planted to edibles (unless it is 2,400 square feet or smaller).

The only people I have seen with more than 1,200 square feet of edibles are either retired long-time gardeners, the independently wealthy, or industrious, highly skilled horticulturists. With yards 2,400 square feet or bigger, you should consider planting as much as 70 to 80% of the area in wildflower meadow and very carefree ornamental shrubs, which are low-maintenance alternatives to lawns.

Plan to have your vegetables very close to the kitchen.

For many gardeners, the first instinct is to put the vegetables “way out back,” but the greater the distance, the sooner you will tire of running out to get a salad for supper, and the sooner you will neglect the garden. You don’t have to hide the vegetables-edible landscaping looks pleasing.

Keep the vegetable area small at first.

While fruit and nut trees are important parts of any edible landscape, the most frequently used and nutritionally important foods are vegetables. Start small, and lay out an area for the first year’s garden of only 100 square feet. For a family of four, leave room in the plans for the area to grow to 600 square feet.

Make the central vegetable area rectangular.

A rectangle uses garden space efficiently and is the best shape for watering by hose and sprinkler. (The paths around a rectangle can be curved to soften the transition to less formal plantings.) If you use drip irrigation, other shapes can be considered. But remember that odd-shaped beds and paths are more tedious to care for. Curves are pretty, but straight paths help get the job done.

Plan the garden in blocks of 100 square feet. This makes it easy to calculate the amount of fertilizers needed — recommendations are usually listed in pounds per 100 square feet. For intensive beds of vegetables, make the beds no more than four feet wide. Shorter people will need to limit the width to three or three and a half feet. Beds that are too wide stress the lower back.

At first, choose low-care plants.

Consider a common requirement in an ornamental landscape groundcover plantings. Periwinkle (Vinca sp.) is a vigorous, easily established ground cover, but it is invasive and must be controlled by weeding. As a ground cover, strawberries should not be given as large an area as periwinkle. They take more water, fertilizer, and effort for good fruiting and a similar amount of effort to control spreading.

The Alpine strawberry, called fraises des bois by the French, may be planted in a bigger area than either periwinkle or regular strawberries. It grows in clumps that do not make troublesome runners. As a ground cover it still requires more water and fertilizer than periwinkle, but less maintenance. It is a good edible to start with.

Place herbs and perennial flowers near, but not in, the vegetable beds.

Perennial herbs and flowers should be grouped by similar water and fertilizer needs and planted in their own beds or borders, not randomly within the main vegetable plantings. Growing perennial plants with annual vegetables usually makes the maintenance more difficult. It is, for example, especially awkward to turn the soil for a new planting.

Though there are plants that have a beneficial effect on each other, there is rarely any reason for these so-called companion plants to be close together. Most of the helpful influence of flowers and herbs lies in their ability to attract beneficial insects, so these plants can be many feet away from the vegetable garden and still have a positive impact.

Plant fruit and nut trees in clusters of like kinds.

Grouping fruit trees according to similar needs for water, fertilizer, and sprays simplifies their care. When peaches, for example, are scattered through the landscape, it makes spraying for peach leaf curl more of a chore.

Then too, peaches require much more water and fertilizer than apples for healthy yields. If the two are interplanted, the apples are likely to grow more spindly and be more prone to pests because of the fertilizer and water given the peaches.

Where possible, place fruit and nut trees at least four times their mature height away from the perimeter of the vegetable area so that their roots do not invade the vegetable beds. The trees can become weakened or diseased by the quantities of water and fertilizer needed to keep vegetables happy.

Make it compact.

The less distance you have to walk, the easier it is to manage your edible landscape. Compact plantings mean more variety in less area and less running around to care for everything.

Use as many dwarf and miniature (genetic dwarf) fruit trees as possible. Not only are they easier to prune and harvest, but they take less space than full-size trees, letting you grow more types in a smaller area.

There are more compact vegetable varieties available every year. Now you can buy more than half a dozen types of winter squashes in a bush or semi-bush form. A number of tomato varieties are compact enough to grow in containers. Cucumbers also come in bush form, needing only one-third the usual garden space.

Plan as many permanent paths as possible.

Permanent paths are vital in reducing maintenance. Note, however, that you must plan your landscape with forethought to avoid having to tear them out one day. Make the paths two and one-half to three feet wide for easy wheelbarrow access. This is especially helpful for applying manure or compost and for harvesting. Use carpet covered by gravel or weed-free mulch, masonry, cobblestones, cement, mowed perennial clovers, or whatever cheap material you can find.

Place most edibles in the backyard.

Edible plantings in the front yard are subject to abuse and theft. Stick to the largest, standard-size nut and ornamental trees for the front yard. Unless ·your property is entirely paved or extremely small, there will be plenty of room in the backyard for all the edible landscape you can handle.

Use only ornamentals for multiple-layered plantings.

The effect of many different types of foliage at three or four levels, grouped in the same planting, can be quite striking. However, most edibles are usually too difficult to care for and harvest in such plantings.

For example, if I’m planting genetic dwarf fruit trees, I’ve found clover is a good option to plant between them. It provides ground cover, ornamentation, and separation. With one or two trees I can afford to keep the spacing narrow, only as wide as the genetic dwarf fruit tree — that also makes any other edible plants easy to harvest. Were I to plant more trees, I would need to make the clover patch between trees much wider in order to harvest without stepping on plants. If you want to have several sizes of fruit or nut trees growing near each other, make sure there is space to walk between the trees.

Use gravity to your advantage.

Gravity is a free and continuous source of energy — use it wisely, and save your back. Where the ground is sloped, always move heavy objects downhill. Bring topsoil and the raw materials for making compost to a place uphill from their eventual use. It is much easier to bring the produce of the edible landscape uphill than the raw materials. If it is not possible to place the heaviest objects uphill, then try to move them horizontally across slopes.

Creating Your Design

Scale Drawings

The first step in designing a landscape is making a scale drawing of your property. You will need paper with four squares to the inch, a pencil, an eraser, a tape measure, and time and patience. Begin by finding the longest, straightest side of your property. Measure the length and mark it along one edge of the graph paper. Use this as a reference point from which to measure distances at right angles to this property line. The grid on the graph paper can stand for intervals of feet per box. If your property will not fit, get a bigger piece of graph paper.

Be sure to locate buried utility lines. Most utility companies have a toll-free number for assistance in locating underground pipes and wires. Once they’re located, draw them in.

Make a permanent inked copy of your sketch and have it laminated. Lay tracing paper over the master scale drawing and sketch in possible major areas and projects. This is a good way to brainstorm about how to put all the pieces together. You may have to do a separate, more detailed drawing of some of the projects, such as the location of the individual plants in a flower border.

When I show a set of plans covered with bizarre symbols to most clients, they cannot really visualize what the landscape is going to look like. If drawings aren’t your forte, you may want to use another tool to visualize your anticipated plan.

Clay Models

As you begin to get some solid ideas, try making a small model of your edible landscape. Use clay, twigs, and manufactured props. If you check out the variety of miniature items available from a hobby shop, you will be amazed at the selection of props that you can use for modeling your edible landscape.

Photo Play

Another useful approach is to photograph the existing landscape and draw your edible landscape onto the photograph. Have large prints made, at least eight by ten inches. Again, sketch many possible solutions. At first, do not worry about the feasibility, practicality, or cost of your sketched landscapes. By beginning with a no-holds-barred approach to designing, you will often come up with plans that are both creative and practical. Draw plants onto the photos, scaled to their mature, full size. You will note how quickly a landscape can become crowded. You may want to plant densely in the beginning to have a mature-looking landscape more quickly, but the plantings will soon require selective pruning and removal.

Walking in the Imagined Landscape

The final step involves walking your yard — pacing the size of things, visualizing the design. Use props to help with the visualization of the landscape. I use a long pole with marks every several feet or adjust my extending pole-pruner to the desired height. Then I stand with the pole where a tree is to be planted, and have the client view the height of the pole from several places within the landscape and from several windows. This is a good way to see what a hedge or windbreak may do to your favorite views.

Previewing the Plants

Shrubs and smaller plants can be visualized by setting out container-grown plants. Purchase a few of each type of plant that you anticipate using. By grouping them close together, you can get an idea of the contrast and impact of the combinations of different foliages. Next, set the containers out at the spacing you anticipated on your plan. Stand back and imagine the mature size and form of the plants. Move the containers around until you are happy with the arrangement. Try moving the plants to other locations. Lugging containers around is a good way to review your design before actually planting.

Remembering Good Design

Landscapes change over time, and new plants, desires, and lifestyles can lead you to alter your edible landscape. Just remember the design guidelines you used for the first plan-they will be helpful with your evolving landscape, too.

Here is a short summary and comparison of traditional landscape design and the approach I favor, environmental design.

In traditional landscape design:

  • Structures, not plants, dominate the landscape.
  • The view and the ornamental form are more important than the function.
  • A standardized formula is often applied.
  • The finished product is thought to be fixed and permanent.
  • The plan is a service provided by a designer/consultant, and therefore is less personalized and limits the growth of the client.
  • The design is made without regard to ecological dynamics, tends to ignore local environmental resources, and is costly.

Environmental design:

  • Softens architecture by allowing plants to shape and dominate the landscape.
  • Intends for the landscape to be lived in, chooses functional (edible) aspects over purely ornamental form.
  • Is personally designed by or with the owner.
  • Is constantly evolving, according to the changing needs of the owner.
  • Furthers the personal growth of the owner.
  • Is well grounded in the local environment, is low-cost, encourages the utilization of renewable resources, and relies upon ecological dynamics as a source of sustenance.

Golden Rules of Edible Landscaping

These guidelines, my own golden rules, evolved over the pa.st six years as I wrestled with designs for edible landscapes that would easily fit into busy lives. Each rule contains a hidden “R factor” — the “reality coefficient.” This factor lumps all of Murphy’s Laws into one gigantic mathematical mess. Never underestimate the R factor in your garden.

As simple as some of these rules seem, some are consistently ignored. As with all rules, break these only if you are willing to face the consequences. But remember that breaking rules can lead to creative breakthroughs. So be flexible-try to follow the rules, but if you can’t, then have fun creating your own additions and refinements.

  • Enjoy your garden — if it’s just drudgery, you’re doing something wrong. If your garden becomes drudgery, why bother? Do something that is pleasurable, instead. You will not starve. Plan to make it easy to relax, recline, and recreate in your edible landscape.
  • You have a lot to do besides gardening- don’t let your edible landscape take you over. We all have jobs, families, friends, and leisure pastimes. Landscaping is great fun and good therapy, but expect to let some areas of the edible landscape change or even die. As your life changes, modify your garden to suit it.
  • Be lazy — let nature work for you. Learn how to use natural, biological processes to your advantage. Nature works 24 hours a day, and there are many ways to cooperate with nature to grow your food.
  • Turn limitations into virtues. Break the restraints of your property. Make your edible landscape pull together as a productive environment. Put plants in the right places to promote their best features .
  • Seek out the wisdom of your neighbors — someone else might just know more than you do. Most neighborhoods still have the living heritage of older, lifelong gardeners. They can give more good information about gardening in your locale than any book.
  • Your edible landscape is a community — a whole made up of individuals. The forest doesn’t mourn the death of an individual tree. The role of a single plant is to serve the group as a whole. How the pieces-bugs, animals, and plants-work together is the most important aspect of a healthy edible landscape. Respect the pieces, but work toward the betterment of the whole.
  • Time and money spent early mean time and money saved later. An extra buck spent now for a lower-maintenance garden will save you many times that dollar each year, for years to come.
  • Plan in advance — make your mistakes on paper, not in your landscape. Paper mistakes are less costly than landscaping mistakes. Sketch out several options and take the time to consider each. Review, rethink, get second opinions, and redo the plan. It can be costly to be impatient.
  • Plan for the unexpected-nature will be, in all probability, unpredictable. The climate is getting more, not less, erratic. Plan to have Options for several extremes of weather if you do not like to gamble with the food you are growing.
  • Start ever so small. A 100-square-foot vegetable bed is the largest area for a new gardener. Make this tiny plot picture perfect, then add on another I 00 square feet each year until the Peter Principle is activated. That is, increase the area of the vegetable beds just short of the point where you can no longer master them.
  • Learn the multiple uses of plants to double the benefits of your garden without doubling size or work. Many plants can serve more than one function. Some cool the house in the summer while ripening tasty fruits or nuts. Others have nutritious roots and leaves. Others kill pests and are edible. When possible, choose mostly those plants that have multiple benefits.
  • Plant your vegetables no further from the kitchen than you can throw the kitchen sink. There is a correlation between the distance to the kitchen and the demise of a vegetable bed. In almost literal terms, for every foot further from the kitchen sink, the vegetables get forgotten a week sooner. The most distant vegetable beds return to weeds the soonest.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape — Naturally (© 1984, Robert Kourik, all rights reserved) was originally available only by mail from Mr. Kourik.

Originally published as “EDIBLE LANDSCAPING” in the May/June 1985 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

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