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.

| October/November 2010

  • 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.
    PHOTO: ROBIN BACHTLER CUSHMAN
  • 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.
    ROSALIND CREASY
  • 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.
    ROSALIND CREASY
  • 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.
    ROSALIND CREASY
  • 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!
    ROSALIND CREASY
  • 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.
    ROSALIND CREASY
  • 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.
    ROSALIND CREASY
  • 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.
    ROSALIND CREASY

  • arbor with grape vines
  • edible garden bed
  • Black Satin blackberry bush
  • peppers and grapes
  • birdbath in garden
  • scarecrow and hedges
  • orange sea berries
  • romaine lettuces

The edible landscape concept strikes a deep chord with me; I've been exploring its many options and variations for more than 40 years. Americans cover millions of acres of valuable agricultural land around their homes with lawn, marigold and azalea beds, wisteria, and an occasional privet or maple. Yet as a landscape designer, I know most edible plants are beautiful and that homeowners could grow a meaningful amount of food in their yards — a much more noble use of the soil.

Instead of the typical landscape, we could minimize lawn areas and put in decorative borders of herbs, rainbow chard, and striking paprika peppers. Instead of the fleeting color of spring azaleas, we could grow blueberries that are decorative year-round — or pear and plum trees that put on a spring show of flowers, have decorative fruits, and yellow fall foliage. These plants aren’t just pretty, they provide scrumptious fruit and can save you money.

The Future Is Now

I’m convinced that, in addition to being a viable design option, an edible landscape (if maintained using organic methods) is the most compelling landscape concept for the future. Edible landscapes offer incredible benefits:

Energy Savings. Food from your yard requires no shipping, little refrigeration, and less energy to plow, plant, spray, and harvest the produce.



Food Safety. You know which chemicals (if any) you use, and huge batches of vegetables won’t be combined and therefore can’t contaminate each other.

Water Savings. Tests show that most home gardeners use less than half of the water agricultural production needs to produce a crop. Drip irrigation saves even more. And unlike in agriculture, fields aren’t flooded and huge vats of water aren’t needed to cool down the harvest.

Melissa
2/19/2015 8:57:57 AM

I am also curious about fruit attracting insects, how do you manage that?


sheryljeanne
6/21/2013 4:12:46 PM

dont forget Asparagus, its a beautiful fern which gives the garden a soft look, plus it comes back year after year


byWilson
1/7/2011 8:32:12 AM

I love edible landscapes. But about that grape arbor-grapes draw yellowjacks & wasps, as do figs that have openings at the end of their fruit. Be aware of what beneficials your plantings attract. You might not want to sit untder a grape arbor with wasps above you and on the fallen fruit at your feet. Also, I LOVE morning glories. But they spread their seeds everywhere in my other plantings, strangling and covering them, cutting off sunlight and pulling tall perennials down to the ground. Be aware of how much weeding you want to do in later years when you plant such a vine.







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