Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 25 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. He’s a noted author of 6 gardening books, and is a speaker, radio and TV show host and consultant. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for more information.
Sometimes trends just seem to compliment each other. Take gardening. For a number of years now the number of gardeners growing their own edibles has grown. At the same time, the average size of the American garden has been steadily shrinking. So, how does a gardener grow more of their own food in a small foot print? By foodscaping or edible landscaping. Simply put, edible landscaping is replacing purely ornamental plants in your yard with edible ones. The knock against growing vegetables, fruits and herbs in your yard was always they aren’t pretty. Well, that has all changed with the breeding of new varieties and the discovery that many of our favorite edible shrubs, vines and trees can be attractive, too.
In my book, Foodscaping, I highlight the places in your yard where you can grow edibles and suggest some of my favorite ones to grow for their beauty and “edibility”. For example, you can plant blueberries, gooseberries and honeyberries as foundation plants around your home instead of the traditional spirea, lilac and juniper. Instead of a maple or oak shade tree, why not grow a standard apple, persimmon or mulberry tree? For smaller flowering trees, consider tart cherries, plums, and serviceberries (Amelanchier). For vines, replace a Virginia creeper or Boston ivy with hardy kiwi, grape or hops vine. Yes, you can eat hop shoots when they first emerge from the soil. They taste like asparagus. All of these will provide the beauty you are looking for in flowers and foliage, but also give you abundance of fruits to eat.
In flower gardens, mix and match attractive vegetables, herbs and fruits such a alpine strawberries, colorful lettuce, Swiss chard and kale, hot peppers and attractive artichokes. Use mint, nasturtiums and thyme as ground covers under trees. The possibilities are only limited by your own creativity and imagination.
There are gardening rules to follow when substituting edible plants for ornamental ones.
Most fruiting edibles need at least 6 to 8 hours of sun a day to flower and fruit their best. In shadier areas, plant elderberries, gooseberries, greens, and root crops. These will do well with only 4 hours of sun. Most edibles grow best in fertile, well-drained, neutral pH soil. There are some exceptions. Blueberries need an acidic soil and Mediterranean herbs need lower fertility and better drainage. When pairing these plants with other flowers and shrubs, select ones with similar needs. Plant blueberries near hydrangeas or azaleas for their love of acid soil. Plant thyme, oregano, and other Mediterranean herbs near other flowers that like hot, dry, sunny conditions such as sedum and lantana.
For edibles that you’ll remove when harvesting, or ones that may look “ratty” by the end of the season, remember to succession plant cool and warm season plants together. As the cool weather loving lettuce comes out, the heat loving eggplant right next to it can fill in the space. As the dwarf yellow podded peas fade, the bushy artichoke in front of it can grow to block the view.
So, when planning your new garden projects for this year, or assessing what plants need to be removed, remember to include edibles into the mix of possibilities. Your eyes, and your belly, will thank you for it.