The idea of Foodscaping or Edible Landscapes has exploded over the past 10 years, and it looks like the edible garden trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So read on to learn more about why edible plants and edible landscaping is making such an impact on the garden scene.
Edible landscapes are popping up in front yards, city parks and schoolyards all across the world, seriously! In Australia, England and right here in North America. In fact, Tesla Founder Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal Musk is installing school gardens and community learning gardens all over the United States. See more here
What is edible landscaping?
The practice of using edible plants to create a productive and beautiful landscape design. Edible landscaping has been around as long humans have been cultivating the earth. From the Ancent Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the French potage gardens, edible landscapes have a rich history.
There was a tradition of Assyrian royal garden building. King Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC) had created a canal, which cut through the mountains. Fruit tree orchards were planted. Also mentioned were pines, cypresses and junipers; almond trees, date trees, ebony, rosewood, olive, oak, tamarisk, walnut, terebinth, ash, fir, pomegranate, pear, quince, fig, and grapes.
Often flowers (edible and non-edible) and herbs are planted with the vegetables to enhance the garden’s beauty. The goal is to make the function of providing food aesthetically joyful.
More recently, edible landscaping has seen a huge backyard resurgence since the book Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creacy, in 2010. Actually, her article how to Grow $700 of food in 100sqft, went viral after being featured by Mother Earth News Magazine.
Find Creacy’s great book on Amazon.
How is Edible Landscaping different from typical landscaping
Edible Landscaping or Foodscaping takes a cue from traditional landscape design but bends the rules to feature edible plants. Traditional elements like form, focal points and texture are maintained, but the function of the landscape favours edible plants.
For example, a dense row of dwarf blueberries can be planted in place of a traditional boxwood hedge. These dwarf blueberries mimic the formal texture and form of a boxwood hedge but can yield several pounds of antioxidant-rich, blueberries in a single season. More on growing berries here.
Another example is that of a black lace elderberry taking the place of a Japanese maple. The deep red colours are similar, but the black lace elder produces tart edible berries(best when cooked), it grows much faster than a maple and it produces clouds of blush pink flowers in the spring.
Edible Landscape Design
Make your Edible Landscape Beautiful by Creating a Colour Pallet
Creating a colour pallet for your edible landscape is all about personal choice. I like to take a cue from my surrounding and my foundation plants. If the trees I’ve chosen put on a big spring show, I like to highlight that to create a cohesive display.
Planning for the seasons: How to create year-round production, interest and beauty in an edible landscape.
How to plan your edible garden to be both productive and beautiful all year round may take some clever thinking. But with a little forethought and lots of patience, you can create a stunning, productive garden that will look amazing all year round.
Spring interest for your edible landscape:
After a long white Canadian winter, I love seeing spring colour pop up in my edible landscape. I love adding spring bulbs like crocus, violets and tulips to the edible landscapes I design. For example, a cherry tree underplanted with pink tulips and white crocus would provide a stunning spring display in any edible landscape.
Summer interest for your edible landscape:
Summer colour and interest comes easily in an edible landscape. By now the fruits and berries are beginning to produce and the edible flowers are in full bloom. Some of my favourite features of a summer foodscape come in the form of vegetables like Swiss chard, red-veined sorrel, and daylily blossoms.
Fall interest for your edible landscape:
Creating fall interest is also easy, as long as you remember to incorporate fall blooming plants like echinacea, helenium and yarrow. Also, fruits like apples and pears should be ripening and taking on their trademark autumn colours of red, orange and gold. Another way to add fall interest to any foodscape is through the addition of squash and pumpkins.
Winter interest for your edible landscape:
Now winter interest is tricky in any garden, edible or not. Most common landscape trees have lost their leaves and perennial flowers are all lost under a blanket of snow. To create winter interest, include plants that will show above the snow, ornamental grasses like Karl Forester and Northern Sea Oats stand tall in the snow and their seed heads provide food for birds that overwinter in your garden.
How to make sure your Edible Garden is a Success
Water requirements for edible plants
Edible plants require more water than traditional landscapes but the result is worth it. Know your plant’s water requirements and use water-saving techniques to lighten your water needs. Techniques like mulching, early morning watering and using drip-irrigation will all help to reduce your water bills. Be sure to harvest rainwater whenever you can, the plants like it better than treated water and it really helps cut down on our water bills.
Light requirements for an edible landscape
Edible landscapes are ever-changing, they grow and fill in, often creating shade where there was none before. Plan ahead for light and space requirements to ensure a gorgeous garden for years to come.
Soil requirements for edible gardens
Edible plants need regular feeding to keep them producing well, this is not a hard job but it’s one that needs to be done. Add compost and fish emulsion to your edible landscape each spring and once in the summer to keep the plants healthy and vigorous. More about garden maintenance here.
Pollination is essential for edible gardens
Almost all fruits and berries are insect pollinated, so make sure that you have plenty of insect-attracting flowers and herbs in your garden to bring in the beneficial insects.
Also, many fruit trees and shrubs need a partner to ensure adequate pollination. Some plants like blueberries and plums just need another shrub or tree that flowers at the same time to cross-pollinate with. But other fruits like persimmon and kiwi need a male and a female plant to ensure the pollination job is done right. Dig a little deeper and ask your nursery staff about pollination requirements before purchasing fruits, nuts and berries.
How to Select Plants for an Edible Garden
Get to know your Edible plants
It is imperative that you can confidently identify your edible plants. While many edible plants like strawberry, lavender and common tree fruits are easy to identify, there are some edible plants that can be mistaken for poisonous plants. For example, even experienced gardeners can mistake the edible berries of an aronia bush for the toxic berries of cotoneaster, toxic horse chestnut and tasty Chinese chestnut are not easily distinguishable and don’t even get me started on mushrooms! Do your research and don’t eat anything that you aren’t 100% certain of.
To learn more about toxic plants see Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart
Edible doesn’t always mean tasty
Just because the internet says a plant is edible, does not always mean it also tastes good. Do your research to make sure the edible plant that you are coming actually tastes good.
I love the no-nonsense advice of Michael Pillips, in his book The Holistic Orchard he describes, in detail the flavour, colour and scent of each of the fruit varieties he recommends.
See if you can find it at your local library or pick it up on Amazon here:
My edible forest garden mentor Richard Walker works on what he calls the “Yum Factor”. If a plant doesn’t rate 3 or higher on the “Yum Scale” then it had better have high medicinal properties or it’s out. If you live in a temperate climate, growing zone 6 or less, then you light love Richard’s book: Food Forestry North of the 49th It’s a staple in our house!
Some of the edible plants that I like to include in every edible landscape that I design include:
- Dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit trees like plums, peaches, and Asian pears
- Hardy and native berry bushes including, blueberries, currants, saskatoon/serviceberries
- Culinary herbs like sage, thyme and chives
- Edible Flowers like calendula, lavender, and daylily
- And annual or perennial vegetables like kale, rhubarb, squash and swiss chard
Do edible landscapes contain strictly edible plants?
Edible landscapes do not need to contain strictly edible plants. I like to aim for a majority of my plants to edible, but I also like to include plants that serve secondary functions as well.
Include early blooms for the bees.
Pansy/violet, tulip and crocus are all low growing early season flowers that the bees love, you won’t regret bringing these lovely spring flowers into your garden.
Include plants that attract pollinators
Most fruits are bee and insect pollinated, so be sure to include plants that attract pollinators to your edible landscape. Edible Flowers like borage and nasturtium are especially loved by bees, remember to include them in your edible landscape.
Include plants that deter pests
Pests like mice and voles can wreak havoc on an edible landscape. Luckily, strong scented edible plants like chive, walking onion and garlic can help to deter these pests from your garden. Plant chives around the base of your fruit trees to deter mice and voles from chewing on your trees.
Is edible landscaping right for you?
Edible landscaping isn’t for everyone, if you are looking for a “no maintenance” garden then sorry to say but, your search continues. But if you are a gardening fanatic like I am then this may work for you.
Work with what you have. If you are renovating an existing garden to be an edible landscape take the time to evaluate what you want to keep and what plants you are willing to replace with edible plants.
Edible landscapes need tending, they need pruning, re-seeding and of course harvesting. But, these tasks don’t feel like work to me. To me, edible garden maintenance is like honing a living work of art. A garden in an ever-changing 3-dimensional sculpture, one that you can see, touch, smell and of course taste.
To learn more about Edible Landscaping see my accompanying articles here: