Edible Landscaping: Attractive and Appetizing

Edible Landscaping: Attractive and Appetizing
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Edible Landscaping: Attractive and Appetizing

Edible Landscaping: Attractive and Appetizing

To build an edible garden, you’ll need to: 

  • Plan out your garden (including what edible plants are already there)
  • Decide which fruits and vegetables you want to grow
  • Substitute plants and trees for fruit-bearing varieties
  • Choose plants that are beautiful and edible

Edible landscaping for your yard or property may seem daunting at first, but it is very achievable taken one step at a time. It can be fun, productive and lessen your food budget! Whether you are starting with a clean slate, an empty lot with no plants or reclaiming a property that is overgrown and weed-filled, the opportunities are the same. It is very possible to have an attractive yard that the casual observer doesn’t realize is a massive food producer.

The first thing to do is to determine what edible plants already exist on your property. If you are the person with the clean slate, your only edible plant may be the dandelions. Yes, dandelions are edible! In fact, all parts of the plant are edible. The root can be used much like a carrot is used. The leaves can be eaten fresh as a salad green in the early spring (the leaves become bitter as they mature). The dandelion flowers are used in baking or for making wine.

If you are reclaiming an overgrown property, you might think it’s best to just clear cut the property. Put down the hedge clippers and turn off the mower! Instead, take the time and effort to really look at what is there. 

pink apple blossomspink apple blossoms

That old tree in the corner might turn out to be an apple or pear tree that can be returned to a productive orchard tree with some clean up and some pruning. You could discover that you have a pecan tree or a hickory nut tree. Some of the overgrown bushes may be hiding a great elderberry or currant bush. You might find some asparagus or rhubarb. Perhaps you’ll find an heirloom rose bush which has edible petals and rose hips. You are especially likely to find these hidden treasures if your property was lived on 50-100 years ago. These are the days when people raised most of their own food–even in the city. It was the time of the depression and victory gardens. The plants and trees that people grew for food may still be there, or the plants have reseeded themselves and newer generations of those plants are growing on your property.

Once you know what you already have growing, you can plan how you will develop your yard to look beautiful, but still produce the most food possible. For instance, you had planned on planting a crabapple tree in your front yard because it stays a little smaller and it is covered with beautiful flowers in the spring. Consider planting a dwarf apple tree instead. It will be about the same size at maturity and is also covered with flowers every spring, but instead of producing fruit only good for the birds to eat, you will have full-size apples! If apples aren’t your favorite, substitute a pear tree or a peach tree. Just be sure to choose a dwarf variety to match the typical decorative crabapple tree.

If you would like to plant a hedge for privacy or to visually identify the property line, consider using a fruit-bearing bush. Currant bushes are attractive, with a leaf that is similar in shape to a maple leaf but smaller. The fruit grows in clusters in early summer and is great in jams and jellies alone or mixed with raspberries. Another good choice is blueberry bushes. The bushes are attractive in the spring and covered with flowers, in the summer are covered with fruit and, in the fall, the leaves turn red for a beautiful fall color.

currant berriescurrant berries

Your food-bearing plants don’t have to be kept separate. They can be mixed in with the other shrubs. In fact, many gardeners feel they have less problems with animals finding and eating the fruits if the plants are planted randomly throughout the garden. Some of the more pungent edible plants can also be used to deter pests that may want a share of your berries and other fruits. Rabbits and deer don’t particularly like garlic or onions. They also don’t like chives. If you plant them near your berry bushes, it may keep the pests from discovering the berry plants. Note that while chives are the most attractive of the onion family, they are also the best at reseeding themselves and can become a bit invasive. If you cut the flowers off before they go to seed, it won’t be a problem.

Once you have your main large plants—including the trees and shrubs—addressed, you are ready to look at what plants produce food or are edible, but can be part of the garden beds. Some yards are too small to accommodate a vegetable garden or there might be a restriction in your community. If you want to grow food, it will have to be a plant that fits into the landscaping because it is attractive as well as edible. There are lots of plants that fill those requirements. Here is a list of our favorites.

Peppers

red peppers on plant in gardenred peppers on plant in garden

Pepper plants are compact, neat plants that work well in any garden—especially the hot peppers since they have multiple smaller peppers that cover the plant and range in color from yellow to orange to red and purple. The peppers take the place of colorful flowers in the garden and they are all edible.

Beans

When most of us think of beans, we think about the green beans or maybe a dried bean variety. Beans are one of the most diverse vegetables ever. Did you know that beans can be over a foot long and can come in all sorts of colors like pink and purple? If you plant a bean in among your flowers that is loaded with bright purple beans, there’s no question your garden will be more beautiful because of it. Also, consider a pole bean variety to climb an attractive trellis or fence. 

Beans are easy to grow. Plant the bean seeds directly in the soil and stand back because they grow fast in the warm weather.

Eggplant

Gardeners used to have only one or two varieties to choose from. Today’s eggplants come in many different colors and shapes, making them attractive in the landscape. Eggplant seeds should be started indoors and transferred outside when the temperature is consistent and danger of frost is over.

Swiss Chard 

Swiss Chard is attractive in any garden setting. The large green leaves top stalks of red traditionally, but today, a variety called Bright Lights has become very popular. This Swiss Chard grows stalks of multiple colors from red to purple to orange and yellow. Both the leaves and the stalks are edible, and it will keep producing more stalks if you cut it near the base. It is such a beautiful plant that many gardeners will give it the spotlight in container gardens and flower beds.

Nasturtiums 

Nasturtiums are probably the best-known edible flower. They are usually used in fresh salad to add a little bite as well as color to the salad. They are a beautiful flower in the landscape, can be used for companion planting and are edible. What more can you want from a single plant?

Artichokes 

If you live in zone 8 or above, you are able to grow artichokes. Plant the artichoke seeds directly in the soil after the final frost date or start indoors four to six weeks earlier. Artichokes are such a unique looking plant and  they look great in the landscape. Each plant produces multiple chokes. You will need to divide the plants every three to four years.

sun flower graphicsun flower graphic

Sunflowers

Most people grow sunflowers for their stunning height and beauty or for the seeds. The giant tall sunflowers can easily grow 12-14 feet tall and make a great specimen in the garden. The record-breaking sunflower was around 30 feet tall! This variety produces an exceptionally large flower head, also. As the flower develops, the seeds will form right on the flower head. The seeds are a wonderful and nutritious snack. Actually, the entire flower head is edible. If picked when young, it can be cooked much like an artichoke.


Lavender 

Lavender not only smells good, it tastes good. Lavender is often used as a flavoring when baking cakes. It is also added to soothing teas and to flavor drinks.

Bee Balm 

pink bee balm flowers in fieldpink bee balm flowers in field

Bee Balm is a flower that many people have in their perennial garden because it is a pretty foolproof plant that can survive just about anything. What most people don’t know is that Bee Balm is an edible flower. Add the Bee Balm flower petals to your summertime drinks. It has a calming effect that soothes stressful or anxious feelings. Bee Balm is also used for its medicinal properties. It can be added to salves to soothe skin rashes and minor infections.

Basil 

Basil is an herb grown in many gardens for its flavor, especially in Italian cuisine. There are many different types of basil, and it can be green or purple. It is an attractive plant in the flower bed. Whenever you are growing edible herbs like basil, try to start with organic herb seeds. Basil can be started indoors to guarantee that you will have plenty of basil to use when your tomatoes are ripe.

Basil will not tolerate the cold so harvest your basil before the first frost hits. Basil can be dried and used throughout the winter, or you can try to grow it in a windowsill garden.

Rosemary 

Rosemary is another edible herb that looks good in a container garden or in the landscape flower garden. Rosemary has a grey-green color and looks like a short needle pine. It offers a nice contrast to the broad leaves and colors of flowers like geraniums.

Daylilies

Daylilies are another plant that is commonly found in many gardens without the gardeners realizing that the entire plant is actually edible. The unopened flower buds are great in stir fry. The flowers can be eaten whole and have a sweet, crunchy flavor. Eat them as they are or add them to a salad for color as well as taste.

daylily flower graphicdaylily flower graphic

Remember when you are growing plants that you intend to eat, you need to be mindful of pesticide and herbicide use. You don’t want to eat something that is coated with harmful chemicals. Use organic methods of pest control and always clean your harvest before cooking or storing.

There are so many edible plants available for your garden that we couldn’t possibly include them all in this list. The important thing to remember is that you can always try something new if you figure out there’s something you want to grow. In the South, that could be banana trees and pineapples. In the North, that could be raspberries or even sweet corn. There’s no limit to the endless amount of delicious food you can grow in your garden or in containers

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