With the cost of fuel on the climb and no cap in sight, it’s safe to say that gardeners and homeowners alike are taking nearly every measure they can to skimp and save for necessities. And so they should. No better time has offered itself than now for integrating edible gardening in our home landscapes. Save on a few annuals you might replant each year by including perennial herbs, seasonal vegetables, or fruiting shrubs instead.
While I’m not asking you to do away with your ornamental landscape entirely, you should at least consider the fact that growing your own oranges, lettuce, and tomatoes could certainly save you a trip to the grocery store (and not to mention the increased prices of produce).
Gardening with fruits and vegetables can be a fun and rewarding experience, while at the same time giving you a whole new perspective on combining ornamental and edible plants in the landscape—natural garden art at its finest. Create bold flavors and assimilate brash textures in your yard. No matter how you mix them, remember that nothing is sweeter than the fruits of your arduous labor.
The Fruits of Edible Landscaping:
Gardening with edible plants allows you to enjoy some of the finest flavors of homegrown fruits, vegetables, and spices. The delectable taste of just-ripened produce is difficult to surpass.
Home gardeners can control the quantity and kind (if any) of pesticides applied to their crops. With organic gardening making a popular comeback, many gardeners today prefer to play it safe in terms of spraying chemicals. Let’s face it; we don’t know for certain what has been applied to supermarket produce.
As I mentioned earlier, growing edible plants can significantly trim the costs of weekly grocery bills; you might be surprised to find how much fresh fruit you or your family can consume in one week.
Edible gardening encourages healthy eating habits. If your family typically snacks on chips and candy bards, consider growing strawberries, blueberry bushes, and tomato plants; young children might be more inclined to snack on fresh fruits if they played an interactive role in home gardening projects.
Grow unusual varieties not often sold in grocery stores and produce stands. The world of fruits, vegetables, and exotic spices is as vast as the earth’s horizon, so try your hand at whatever suits your fancy. Check at local plant nurseries first for cultivars specific to your area, and broaden your taste buds further with varieties listed in any number of seed catalogues found online.
Edible gardening, most importantly, allows you to break from everyday routines and to enjoy the outdoors, while interacting with the natural world.
Edible Elements of Design:
Before creating your edible garden, keep in mind that most fruits and vegetables require at least six hours of direct sunlight for optimum flowering and yield. Raise flowerbeds four to six inches high, using garden soil rich in organic material such as compost, peat moss, or pine bark; raised beds help to ensure proper drainage, while organic matter improves soil structure and nutrition. Once the soil has been added, incorporate a fertilizer as well, making sure it is complete with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (as well as other minor nutrients fruits and vegetables require). You can usually distribute this in your garden at the rate of three to four pounds per 1,000 square feet, but make sure to read the product label before doing so; too much fertilizer will burn (and possibly kill) your plants.
Remember to include a pre-emergent herbicide as well, so as to cut down on extra weeding in the future. Select an herbicide specifically listed for use on vegetables, and apply it as directed on the label; some herbicides need to be worked into the soil, while others need merely be sprinkled on the surface. Top-dress the flowerbeds with at least two inches of mulch to help conserve soil moisture and to prevent weed growth. Excess mulch can also serve as a natural pathway through your flowerbeds for inspecting and harvesting crops.
If you are starting your garden from scratch, plant trees and shrubs first, and then fill in with smaller crops later. You will find it much easier to design around a lemon tree than a patch of strawberries. You might also find it beneficial to plan out your garden in advance, so as to give you a better idea of which plants you want in specific beds. If you are working around an established ornamental landscape though, simply integrate edible plants where space allows. Replace dying ‘Bradford’ flowering pears for instance, with young healthy persimmon trees or peaches. Where hedges of ‘Formosa’ azaleas have worn out their welcome, plant rows of Russian olives or blueberries in their places.
Intersperse edible crops with ornamental flowers and shrubs. Remember that edible gardening is not about perfect rows and symmetrical order; rather, the idea is to coalesce a symphony of inimitable hues and textures that radiate from a range of fruits, vegetables, and foliage compositions. Consider mixing a bed of lettuce, chives, and nasturtium with pansies, parsley, and calendulas this fall. Green onions, cabbage, snapdragons, and ornamental peppers also make an excellent autumn display. Rotate any of these annuals in the spring and summer with plantings of salvias, marigolds, tomatoes, and rosemary. For added color and culinary value, include also eggplant, watermelon, peppermint, daylilies, and lemongrass. The combinations and varieties are endless. Whatever you choose to plant, remember to make edible landscaping a hobby rather than a chore; involve the entire family in bringing your culinary palette from the garden to your table.
Edible Alternatives for the Garden:
- Trees – apples, citrus, figs, loquats, mayhaws, paw-paws, peaches, pecans, persimmons, plums
- Shrubs – blackberries, blueberries, pineapple guavas, pomegranates, Russian olives, strawberry guavas
- Vines – grapes, muscadines, raspberries
- Groundcovers – oregano, mint, rosemary (prostrate), strawberries, thyme
- Herbs – basil, bay laurel, chives, cilantro, curry, dill, fennel, lemongrass, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme
- Vegetables – (warm season) artichoke, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, okra, peppers, squash, tomatoes, watermelon, zucchini (cool season) asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, mustard greens
- Flowers – alliums (leeks, chives, garlic, garlic chives), anise hyssop, arugula, bachelor’s button, basil, bee balm, borage, burnet, calendula, carnations, chervil, chrysanthemums, citrus blossoms, dandelions, daylilies, fuchsia, gladiolus, hibiscus, hollyhock, impatiens, jasmine, Johnny-jump-ups, lavender, marjoram, nasturtiums, pansy, pineapple guava, roses, sage, sunflowers, yucca petals.