March 2020

Edible Landscaping: For a Healthy, Tasty, Beautiful Yard

Author: Michele Roldán-Shaw

Folks have caught on to the lifestyle benefits of fresh organic produce and the joy that growing your own food brings. But the latest trend has people utilizing yard space in unconventional ways to make the most of what’s available, whether an enclosed back patio, flower beds out front, or a few containers on the porch. Landscaping is no longer just for ornamentals! There are so many fun and attractive ways to produce food around your home.

Grow what you like
Consider the staples of your household, and the treats you look for again and again. Can any of those be grown in our climate? For example, if you eat a lot of salads, a nice variety of lettuce and mixed leafy greens such as spinach, arugula and cress can be grown here through fall, winter and spring. Maybe your kids drink a lot of lemonade, so it would be worth planting a lemon tree or two. Juice from the lemons can be squeezed and frozen into ice cube trays and enjoyed all year round. If spicy food is a big hit in your house, hot pepper bushes are exciting on the eye as well as the tongue and will yield abundant fruit for homemade hot sauce, pepper vinegar, and more. For the grazers, cherry and grape tomatoes make great hanging baskets in place of ferns or flowers. Related to the tomato, but with a fruity taste and paper-lantern husk, the ground cherry is delicious and very easy to grow—possibly one of the best garden snacks ever! Whatever you plant, go for things you’ll actually want to eat, in quantities you can use, that way you’ll reap the rewards of your work.

The neat thing about edible landscaping is that it’s unconstrained and uncompartmentalized. You no longer have to have flowers in flower beds, herbs in herb gardens and veggies in veggie patches. You get to mix it up! That means being creative with different combinations of colors, textures and uses. A winter garden might have collards, kale and purple cabbages beside daffodils and irises. Some striking red- and yellow-veined Swiss chard could be paired with fiery marigolds (which are natural pest repellents) or zinnias and geraniums. A planter with strawberries might have a few culinary herbs thrown in. Climbing cucumber vines could be interspersed with flowering creepers like jasmine. Or maybe try eggplants and Thai basil alongside purple-leaved canna, and golden zucchini near butterfly-attracting lantana. Do some research on companion planting and especially take into consideration those that are naturally pest repellant such as basil, chives, rosemary and garlic. Lavender and citronella are two very pretty aromatic plants that mosquitos hate!

Edible flowers and herbs
The cheeriness of flowers has pleased humanity through the ages. But why not combine purposes and grow flowers that can be eaten too? Pansies and roses are favorites for garnishes and desserts. Nasturtium can be thrown in the salad bowl, and their greens have the same wonderful peppery taste. Tear the petals off bright yellow, red, and orange calendulas then sprinkle over salads, or dry the flowers to boil in tea, put in the bath, or make into homemade healing oils and salves. Herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano have long been used in ornamental gardening, but consider what other flavors you most enjoy—cilantro, lemongrass, parsley, dill, fennel—and see if those can be incorporated into your landscape plan as well.

Fruit trees
Perhaps one of the most satisfying things in an edible landscape—or so-called “food forest”—is a fruit tree. Once it’s established, you do very little for it, yet it keeps showering you with sweet treats year after year! Traditional fruit trees in this area include figs, persimmons, Meyer lemons, grapefruits, plums and pears. But there are so many more to experiment with. Other types of citrus, such as Persian limes, kumquats, cold-hardy satsumas and tangerines are productive. Guavas can be successful here; even bananas and papayas can be coaxed into bearing fruit. Loquats are often seen in local yards as attractive evergreens with delicate blooms that smell like honeysuckle, but few appreciate the fruit—although it’s small with a large pit, the flavor is exquisite! They make great snacks or even smoothies if you have the patience to pick them apart. And in the shrub department, blueberries provide seasonal interest with their tiny white flowers in spring, delicious berries in summer, and red foliage in fall.

Trellises and arbors
There is something magical about a leafy, shady arch forming overhead, perhaps with luscious fruits hanging down, leading you into the space beyond—an orchard perhaps, or a little seating nook. Vertical gardening is both an age-old tradition and a space-saving, urban chic trend. There is a wide variety of edibles that either require support to grow upward or can be trained that way. Here in the South, the classic choice is grapes (scuppernong or muscadine), but passionfruit can also thrive; the flowers are breathtaking, and the fruits taste divine. A bit more challenging to grow, but still possible, is the kiwi arbor. Pole beans make wonderful climbers, covering the support in a luxurious burst of leaves and maybe even some showy blooms before yielding an abundant crop.

Certain veggies can also be trained up trellises, including cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and chayote. Perhaps the most exciting and unusual fruits to cultivate vertically are melons. They will need a special structure and mesh bags (even pantyhose) to grow in, but if you are a melon lover and have limited space, this will be well worth it.

Whatever you decide to plant, don’t be afraid to get imaginative with a creative design that reflects your unique tastes by intermingling flowers, fruits, veggies, herbs and ornamentals. Do a little online research for inspiration, then let your green thumb run wild!

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