When you set out to design a landscape for your yard, you’re sure to think of flowers and plants that will create a beautiful tapestry to highlight your home. But did you ever think of including edibles in your yard rather than only in the vegetable garden?
Vegetables, fruits and herbs often are sequestered to a separate patch rather than being included in a yard’s overall landscape. Gardening and landscape experts, however, will attest to a surge in the popularity of home-grown edibles as people have begun to care more about where their food comes from.
“In a time when people long to reconnect to the land, edible landscapes can create that soulful connection for them,” said Élise Cormier, landscape architect and founder of the landscape architecture and environmental consulting firm Smart Landscapes in Atlanta.
They’re More than Just Food
The benefits of adding edibles to a landscape reach far beyond providing plants that can contribute to your menu, Cormier said.
“It’s a space-saver,” she explained. “If you can combine ornamentals and edibles rather than having a separate bed for everything, you’ve got a well-designed look for your landscape in a minimized area.”
Edibles also offer an easy way to add bursts of color to any landscape. They come in a variety of colors, with lush berries ranging from deep reds to bright purples and tomatoes shining in bright yellow to deep reds.
Cormier recommends starting your new layout with baby steps. For example, begin in the backyard before redesigning the landscape around your more formal and prominent front entrance.
Pair Plants with Similar Needs
There are many factors to consider when adding edibles, but Irvington, New York, landscape designer Sheri Silver says the most important is combining plants with similar needs.
“Most vegetables need six to eight hours of sun each day during the growing season, so they should not be planted in a shade garden,” said Silver. “The same applies to soil requirements. Flowers and shrubs that prefer a dry environment should be planted with edibles that have similar needs.”
The next challenge is to combine the unruly look of a vegetable plant with the more refined appearance of an ornamental plant to create a visual balance.
“Placement is key, as is keeping lines and forms of the design clean and simple,” said Cormier.
Neophytes are often apprehensive about how the final product will look, Cormier said. She creates photo-realistic before-and-after images for her clients to help them see the anticipated result and to gauge their comfort level.
“Once clients can picture the stunning colors and form of red okra leaves or the tropical feel of an eggplant border paired with a rosemary hedge, they become enthusiastic about this new look,” she said.
Another smart trick is to combine plants that benefit each other. For example, onions are known to deter aphids, which can attack plants such as roses. Marigolds help protect tomatoes from snails. And pairing petunias with beans can ward off bean beetles.
Adding edibles to your garden means you must stick to a non-toxic or organic maintenance system, Cormier said. This includes avoiding the use of certain lawn chemicals and restricting the access of pets to some areas of the yard, because pet waste does not mix well with edibles. Keep in mind that any chemicals that touch your edibles can end up in your body.
Colors and Textures Abound
The combinations are endless when it comes to the colors and textures of edibles in your landscape.
“There is literally a kaleidoscope of new vegetables and fruits being bred for color as well as flavor,” said Silver. “This is a direct result of home gardeners incorporating edibles into their landscaping and wanting them to be ornamental as well as delicious.”
You can find pink blueberries, purple asparagus and tomatoes with a mixed pattern of red, green and yellow.
Squash also makes a striking ground cover, as do pumpkins—which have large, bright-green, eye-catching leaves—if you have enough space, said Cormier.
Add Spice to Your Food and Garden
There’s been a rise in the use of edible landscaping plants in everyday cooking, Cormier said, mentioning day lilies, redbuds, pansies, wood violets and yucca blossoms. Trying out a few edible flowers in an urban environment can add an exciting touch to your cooking as well as to your gardening.
Doing research and reading about edible landscapes can help a novice get started, but Silver also advocates jumping in headfirst.
“Much of the reward in gardening is allowing a little bit of the unknown in,” Silver said. “Don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes. Gardening is often trial and error, and one shouldn’t hold back for fear of failing. Roll up your sleeves, get dirty and have fun!”