The modern trend is to no longer banish the vegetable garden to the far corner of the back yard. Rather, homeowners are now putting vegetables and fruit trees or bushes on display as part of an elegant, edible, landscape design. So while this is a modern trend, an edible landscape is really an ancient practice dating back to medieval monks and ancient Persians growing a rich array of vegetables, flowers, fruits, and herbs for edible, medicinal, and ornamental virtues. It was also a long practice of English gardens which was reinstated in 2009 by Queen Elizabeth when she had an organic edible landscape installed within the Buckingham Palace Garden which includes heirloom species of beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and other edibles.
While an edible landscape doesn’t need to be as elaborate as the Queen’s, an edible landscape does use attractive, food-producing plants in a well-designed garden plan around the home and/or living area in the same way that ornamental plants are used. It may also incorporate ornamental plants. As a result, the edible landscape offers fresh, affordable food, a variety of foliage and colors, and sustenance for bees, butterflies, and birds. As this trend grows, there are a growing number of professional landscape companies getting into the business of helping homeowners plan their landscape to include edibles, courses for certification as agriscaping educators and professionals, and any number of books and online articles providing information. Interestingly enough, some subdivision developers now offer buyers a choice of either traditional landscaping or agriscaping for their new home.
Design is what separates edible landscaping from traditional vegetable gardening. Whether ornamental or edible, design should be pleasing to the eye and draw one into the garden to experience it. Instead of rows of vegetables which lead one away like a highway, the same space can be made very attractive (and edible) by incorporating basic landscaping principles starting with a center of interest and then curving other plants around it—the same way one would plan an ornamental garden. Add a few flowers, a trellis for beans/peas or cucumbers, an arbor for grapes, a bench, a bird bath, a fruit or nut tree, garden ornaments and voila! It’s an ornamental edible landscape!
Planning an edible landscape incorporates the same design values of traditional landscapes. Carol Venolia writing for Mother Earth Living, says start small, choose plants appropriate for your climate zone, and offers the following design tips:
- Create primary and secondary focal points.
- Use plantings and hardscaping (such as paths and patios) to define spaces for various uses and experiences.
- Work consciously with color, texture and seasons of blooming and fruiting when choosing your garden’s palette.
- Pay attention to how you lead the eye from one part of the garden to another.
- Except for featured specimen plants, create groupings of plants to avoid a busy, random appearance.
- Explore the aesthetic potential of plants: Grow vines on arbors; create edible landscape walls with vines and shrubs; espalier fruit trees; use containers as accents; grow decorative borders of edibles.
- Make plants do double duty by shading your house in summer and admitting sunshine in winter, reducing your home’s energy use.
For inspiration, one need not look far. Following recent trends, many public gardens have incorporated edible gardens into their landscapes. One of the best can be found at the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanical Garden.
So whether to save money, provide better-quality food for the family, know what you eat, reduce carbon footprint, involve family, or simply to try something different, edible landscaping is a trend that provides environmental benefits and returns a bit of sanity and security to chaotic times. However you do it, Happy Gardening!
A few resources for further reading or to help get you started:
Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally by Robert Kourik
Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn by Fritz Haeg et al.
Edible Landscaping: Now You Can Have Your Gorgeous Garden and Eat it Too by Rosalind Creasy
Edible Landscapes (The Seed) by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension et al.
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
The Incredible Edible Landscape by Carrie Wolfe, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Landscaping with Fruit: Strawberry ground covers, blueberry hedges, grape arbors, and 39 other luscious fruits to make your yard an edible paradise by Lee Reich
Landscaping with Fruits and Vegetables by Fred Hagy