Create edible landscaping for your home by substituting attractive edible plants for some or all of the ornamental plantings in your front garden.
By Wendy Priesnitz
Lush plantings of rainbow chard, potatoes, herbs, sweet peas, beans, lettuce, rhubarb, berries…. Why hide them away in the backyard? Try your hand at edible landscaping and substitute food plants for some of the ornamental plantings in your front garden and increase its beauty at the same time as you provide your family with money-saving and health-enhancing food.
Or, as author and owner of Ecologia Design, an edible landscape design company Michael Judd puts it, “Edible landscaping cross-pollinates a desire for tasty food with nostalgia, greater food security, and a need to stop mowing so damn much.”
Read on to learn how to incorporate edibles and ornamentals in your home’s front garden.
What Plants to use for Edible Landscaping
Many berry plants are attractive enough to use as decorative shrubs. That includes blueberry and currant bushes, grape vines, raspberries, and strawberries. Depending on the habits of the plant, consider growing them over an arbor, in pots scattered throughout your garden, or espaliered against a fence or on a trellis. Smaller plants can be used as borders.
Melons, cucumbers, zucchini, and pole beans are just four of the vegetables that can be grown up trellises along the back of a flower border.
Rhubarb plants can be tucked into the back of a the flower bed and can be underplanted with a low-growing groundcover.
Lettuce and other salad veggies make great edging plants, and they come in a variety of colors, from green to deep reds and purple.
Vegetables for planting in a mixed garden don’t all have to be predominantly green! Think of brilliant yellow and red peppers for splashes of color, or Swiss chard, which comes in a variety of colors. Some peppers are even sold as ornamentals.
Edible flowers like nasturtiums and violas bridge the edible and ornamental spheres. They are happily at home in any vegetable garden, and a few petals tossed in with your lettuce makes for a pretty salad.
Herbs – either on their own or in an herb spiral – are another example of plants that are both edible and ornamental. Many of them, such as parley and coriander, can be mixed in with flowers and will blend in well with flowering perennials. Rosemary is another attractive herb, grows relatively high, and is often available in cleverly shaped topiary. Or use herbs with colorful foliage – like purple basil or tricolor sage – in beds, borders, or containers. Then there are the groundcover herbs like thyme, and the flowering ones like chives.
Believe it or not, tomatoes are an especially good choice for an ornamental garden. Growing away from other vegetables, and being moved to a different spot each year, will help minimize the common diseases and pests that can diminish your yield. (Check out a companion planting guide for more tips about veggies and flowers that like to share space; marigolds, for instance, are great companions to many vegetables.)
Kale doesn’t have many pest problems, so it’s a good choice for a border plant if you choose a low-growing variety, or as a backdrop. Just leave them enough space to spread their leaves.
If you have enough space, a row of corn can be grown as an unconventional yet effective privacy screen/fence.
Fennel is an attractive and hardy perennial with licorice-flavored seeds and young leaves; one type has a swollen, bulb-like stem that is used as a vegetable. Fennel is technically an herb, in the celery family. In a mixed garden, its tall, wispy fronts will provide visual interest and movement as they sway in the wind.
Author Ivette Soler (The Edible Front Yard) calls artichoke “the superstar of front yard food.” She notes that even if you don’t like eating its big flower buds, its “architectural structure” (it can grow to six feet tall), fuzzy leaves, and huge purple flowers are highly ornamental. The globe artichoke is actually a variety of thistle and requires good soil, regular watering and feeding, and winter frost protection. But it can be a fun plant to try.
If you share your property with four-legged pests – from squirrels to deer or raccoons – you might also have to share your hybrid garden. Obviously, a front yard garden can’t be fenced off or otherwise protected in the ingenious but sometimes not so attractive ways many of us use to reserve our produce for ourselves! So consider that when you plant, in addition to issues like climate, shade, and water.
I recommend that, unless you have lots of money and the advice of a landscape designer, you start small. Tuck a few veggies in between your flowers, or add some herb plants – perhaps in pots to keep them from taking over – to the mix. There are some basic principles to follow, and some good books available (see the list at the end of this article), but trial and error is probably the best way to go in order to find what works for your specific situation. This trend seems like it’s here to stay, and you’re not alone in wanting to grow food in your front yard.
Senga Lindsay, a Canadian landscape architect and author of the 2012 book Edible Landscaping, says that almost every project she is asked to design includes a request for edible components — from condominiums with community gardens and fruit trees, to residential developments with edible walls for fences. Lindsay told a Vancouver newspaper that people want to multi-task their gardens. Maybe we’re seeing our gardens through the same busy lens that affects our daily lives, or perhaps we just enjoy the benefits of stepping out the front door and picking some food. Whatever the reason, edible landscaping is a growing (pun intended) trend, and those wonderful vegetable and fruit plants are now taking their place of honor in our front yards rather than being banished behind fences.
Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist: How to Have Your Yard and Eat It Too by Michael Judd (Ecologia, 2013)
Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006)
Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine, a journalist with forty years of experience, and the author of twelve books.