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.


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.

2/19/2015 8:57:57 AM

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

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

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.

10/22/2010 4:34:48 PM

Hi: Love to combine food with flowers. In many areas, like metro boston, MA, I'm concerned about planting edibles along house foundations. Unless the building was built after the late 1970's, it's likely that lead paint shards and chips are mixed into the soil. For old homes, this could mean decades of lead paint are admixed with the soil. Does lead get taken up by the plants?

10/22/2010 1:33:10 PM

My husband and I got married last year and I moved to his house here in the city from a rural area. His yard is very tiny and was very plain. I tore out all the ugly and useless thorny foundation shrubs and put in native ornamental grasses, flowering bulbs, garlic, lettuce, and cabbages! The little island area formed by the driveway and sidewalk to the front door became a perennial bed planted with natives that attractive insects and birds. I also stuck some herbs in there -- basil, dill, a border of thyme, and parsley. We put in two trellises to frame the front door and planted American bittersweet vines -- and morning glories, moonflowers, and cantalopes. On the fence I planted birdhouse gourds, more morning glories, and scarlet runner beans. Haven't even got to describing the backyard yet! :) Here are some pix if you'd like to see it. (You don't have to be on FB to view.)

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