The local food movement has spawned an upsurge in home gardening, with raised vegetable beds sprouting up in neighborhood yards and tiny container gardens appearing on urban porches. After all, you can’t more get local than your own yard.
Growing organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs in your own yard gives you all kinds of benefits including exercise, an inexpensive source of fresh, delicious produce, and the chance to grow unusual, hard-to-find varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables. Some gardeners also like the idea of having an “off the grid” food source in cases of emergency or a convenient, hands-on way to teach children (and themselves) about the outdoors and natural rhythms.
So yes, edible gardening is thrifty, good for the planet and your overall health. And yet. What about flowers? What about beauty?
Luckily, edible landscaping doesn’t always have to be so … utilitarian. A commitment to growing food doesn’t doom your yard to repetitious rows of beans, a yard crowded with raised beds and a general abandonment of aesthetics. Making edible plants part of your overall landscaping plans can result in a beautiful outdoor space, full of interesting textures, pleasing design and yes, flowers. Edible landscaping follows the same principles as regular landscaping—it just comes with a slightly different palette.
There are two ways to start creating an edible landscape. The first is to do it all at once–with to-scale drawings on graph paper and a whole yard plan that factors in seasonal variations, amount of sunlight, and overall visual harmony.
The second method is far more doable for most people and involves starting with a simple one-on-one replacement. That is, switch out just one ornamental plant or tree with something similar that’s edible. Then try it again with something else. And again. Go at whatever pace suits you.
In their book “The Beautiful Edible Garden,” garden designers Stefani Bittner and Leslie Bennett offer several simple swaps of popular ornamental plants including: replacing a magnolia tree with a fuyu persimmon, planting peppers in place of zinnias, and switching out boxwood with blueberries.
Here are some other tips to get you started:
• When planting edibles, use the same type of attention to design as you’d use with any other landscaping. Create visual interest by mixing different textures, heights and colors.
• Know your area. Before you start putting plants in, walk around your neighborhood to see which plants thrive in your area. Talk to gardening-savvy friends and neighbors and visit a local nursery to get ideas on what plants work best in your climate.
• When re-working an area of your yard, don’t feel hemmed in by the idea that it has to be 100 percent edible. Experiment with mixing edibles and ornamentals. The Ohio State University extension service suggests these ideas: Include cherry tomatoes in a window box or hanging basket; plant colorful pepper varieties (e.g., Lipstick, Habanero) alongside flowers, tuck lettuce, radishes, or other short-lived greens into a flower bed, or put basil together with coleus in a planter
• Edible flowers are a great way to add colors (and great flavors) to your garden. Good choices include marigolds, nasturtiums, day lilies, and pansies. Vibrant pink, purple, and blue borage flowers make a great drink garnish or topping for salad or soup. And squash plants not only provide their infamously generous bounty of fruit, but all squash flowers are edible as well.
• Trees are an easy way to go edible and often have fragrant or attractive flowers, too. Stone fruits, citrus, avocados, and apples are common choices, depending on your zone. Or you could opt for more unusual varieties like pomegranate, persimmon, figs, bananas, or cherries. Your climate might also work for low maintenance/high-yield nut trees like cashew, almond, hazelnut, pecan, or pine nut. Dwarf or miniature varieties will work in smaller spaces or even in containers.
• Climbing plants are good choices for trellises and other vertical spaces. A passion fruit vine will cover a wall and gives a show of exotic flowers before fruiting. Let grapes run up a trellis or an overhead arbor (most climates will support some variety of grape) for a yearly harvest. Trellises also work for annuals like pole beans, peas and squash varieties like cucumber and melon.
• Put herbs to work in a fragrant hedge, as a ground cover or decorative element. Oregano, thyme, and chamomile can work as a ground cover and chives work nicely around a border. Basil, parsley or cilantro are good for greenery in a flower bed or planter. Winter savory, lavender or sage acts as an interesting backdrop for annuals. Or experiment with something unusual like chocolate mint, lemon grass, or horseradish.
• Replace shrubs with fruit-bearing bushes like blueberries, elderberries, currents, gooseberry, and natal plum.
• As you go further into making your yard into an edible landscape, keep thinking of ways to put traditional garden plants to use in non-traditional ways. Use lettuce or strawberry as an edging plant, plant a full hedge of rosemary or grow brightly colored hot peppers in a container.
An edible landscape doesn’t require much more effort than a traditional one, but the payoffs are tremendous and will last for years to come.
(Article by: Jill Hamilton – California Association of Realtors)
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