Edible landscaping by PJ LaRue Smith.
Ornamental landscapes of flowers, shrubs, and trees will often have a few herbs scattered throughout due to their beauty and usefulness in the landscape. Why not consider the beauty and usefulness of vegetables, fruits, and nuts as well? Designs that incorporate large proportions of vegetables, nuts, and fruits, are often referred to as “edible landscapes”.
Edible landscaping (as such a design is called) incorporates varying proportions of vegetable, nut, fruit, and herb plantings amongst ornamentals in a landscape. What are the benefits to this particular garden style that make it of interest to the homeowner?
First, it is easily incorporated into virtually any existing garden style and does not have to be done “all at one time”. Pecan trees, for example, can be used instead of oak trees to provide shade. Wanting a tree that flowers first thing in the spring? Plant a peach, pear, or plum instead of a redbud or ornamental pear. Looking for an attractive evergreen bush? Why not plant rosemary (perennial herb), that is not only evergreen, but has flowers and is aromatic as well?
Prefer vining plants? Any type of fencing, be it wood, pipe, wire, or even the lowly cattle panel, can be used as structural support for vining plants such as beans, cucumbers, winter squash, tomatoes, cantaloupe, grapes, and berries. Pumpkins and watermelon, with their large, bright green leaves, can assist in moisture retention, reduction of soil temperature, and hindrance of weeds over large areas of soil.
Pot culture can also be used to grow edibles – blueberries (in large pots) and herbs will add variety and texture to an outdoor living area. Blueberries also provide another bonus aside from the fruit and flowers – a striking display of scarlet red in the fall. Cherry tomatoes, with their bright fruits, create a wonderful display when grown in a hanging basket or in a window box.
Second, and by far the most obvious, is being able to enjoy the freshness and flavor of home-grown, fully ripened produce. Growing one’s own vegetables, fruits, and herbs provides the third, fourth, and fifth benefits by saving on grocery cost, increasing food security, and controlling the quantity and type of pesticides/herbicides used on the foods consumed in your household.
Other benefits, well worth mentioning, include the amazing variety of vegetables and fruits available for planting in the landscape. Tomatoes, as an example, can be as small as a dime, or as large as a softball. They can be yellow, gold, orange, bright or dark red, pink, purple, or striped; shaped like a marble, pear, oval or even have wrinkles!
Cost per plant is another benefit –growing from seed is by far the most economical choice, however, young plants (especially when on sale) are equally as reasonable.
Here are a few other ideas and plant combinations for use in the landscape: Grow nasturtium, violas, borage, or calendula and include flowers in salads; plant colorful pepper varieties (tabasco, habanero, lipstick) alongside flowers; tuck lettuce, radishes, and other short-lived greens into a flower bed; put basil and coleus together in a planter; use yellow or “rainbow chard”, instead of green; plant morning glories and pole beans together; climbing/rambling roses and gourds together; grow clematis up pine trees; and tee-pee style structure made from tree limbs with cucumbers and scarlet runner beans can make an interesting, tasty statement in the landscape.
Lastly, one final benefit that should be mentioned – the joy of strolling through a landscape that is dotted with tasty flowers, fruits and vegetables that can be sampled along the way any time you chose!