Image by Robert Kourik

Avoiding the Tyranny of Edibility

by Robert Kourik May 10, 2017

Avoiding the Tyranny of Edibility

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Robert Kourik lives in Northern California, among towering redwoods, many varieties of lavender, spreading oak trees, and lots of deer. He maintains an extensive ornamental and herbal (and drought- and deer-resistant) garden/orchard that has flourished for 35 years without tilling or watering. He has written 16 gardening books. His most recent book is: Understanding Roots, Discover How to Make Your Garden Flourish.

Author’s Note: These are photos from the garden I designed for the Preston Vineyard’s tasting room. There are 7 beds at 3’ X 6’ each  for a total 124 sq ft.


Some books and people assume that an edible landscape involves replacing all ornamental plants with edibles. Heavens no! A landscape entirely of edible plants would be an enormous burden to all but the most compulsive gardener. The concept is to have a productive landscape which appears ornamental in its overall design. In my original 1986 book (Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape – Naturally), I recommended those “with yards less than 2400 square feet should have no more than 50% of the area planted to edibles. And these figures may be way too ambitious.”

Turns out I think this is far, far more ambitious. Now the average is down to 100-600 square feet. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the average area of vegetable production is 392 square feet. The survey done by the National Gardening Association says it’s an average of 600 square feet for a family of four, a median (midpoint) of 96 square feet.

An increasing number of books say you should replace your lawn with edibles, I say they must have never been to St. Louis County where I grew up. There are many big lawns, huge lawns. Our lawn, at one-half acre, was one of the smallest. The lawns I mowed to make money in High School ranged from one-half to two acres. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the average area of a lot in America is 9,801 square feet (.225 acre). Of that, the lawn takes up 56 percent—or 5,489 square feet. Try converting that to only edibles or even just native or ornamental plants and take less time gardening compared to mowing the lawn. The average vegetable garden takes up only 4% – 392 square feet.

Most books on edible landscaping are done in areas with small lots and smaller front yards. They certainly don’t think about the Heartland, as an example.

Vegetable gardens take as much as 20 hours of tending per season per 100 square feet while lawns only need an hour of labor per 100 square feet per season.

The main point is to start your edible landscape very small and grow only what you can reasonably harvest without having to turn it into a burdensome job.

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