Why plant just any plant in your landscaping when you can plant something edible and accomplish the same goal, whether it be shade, privacy, color, focus, erosion control, or design. There is an edible plant that will fit every situation! The trick is in learning which plants will work for you, and in your area. This really isn’t as hard as it sounds.
Why did I decide to do this? I’ve been living in a construction zone for the past year and a half – an addition to my little house, I needed to replace an entire lawn (eventually) due to the addition, the damages to the lawn, rocks strewn in piles, and a huge pile of excavated black dirt – beautiful soil! I decided that I should take my time, do some research, and put in edible landscaping; plants that could feed me for the rest of my life hopefully, as well as providing a nice looking yard, some privacy, and some color spots. This is not a one year program in my life due to finances, but will be stretched out over probably 4 years. That also gives me time to see what things are working, design the rest of the areas, gather my free necessities, and pull it all together.
I had other reasons also. My reasons for the earth were more plants, more oxygen, water filters, air filters, etc. My personal reasons were that I am getting ready for retirement – I want to eat well then and eat well now. I also want my grandchildren to have a chance to develop a love of growing plants and be able to grow their own food. By showing them this now, and having them help, it will be second nature to them when they later need to be able to provide for themselves. I want to do the bulk of the work while I am physically able to, and while I can afford to do it a little at a time. I also want to have a place to utilize my compost bin, rather than just put veggies in the garbage.
Planning Your Edible Garden
My first question was, “Well, what do I like to eat?” And the 2nd question was, “What do I like to eat that is a perennial?” I needed plants that would be permanent and not needing re-planted each year. And the third question was, “What will actually grow here?” (My fourth question was probably not one you should ask yourself, as in, “What am I Thinking!” ) I live in a climate that is called “Maritime”, meaning cool and coastal, plus we get 70-100 inches of rain here a year, and we freeze sometimes. For me this meant that sub-tropical plants, such as many citrus, and desert loving plants, such as cactus, might not grow that easily here. Then I started researching.
To do the research, I went to my local library, did a search, and checked out every book that came up on a search for ‘perennial’ and ‘garden’… and there were a lot of them!
The books I found most helpful were:
- The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy;
- Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally by Robert Kourik;
- Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to Zuiki Taro – A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious Easy-to-Grow Edibles by Eric Toensmeier;
- Self-Sufficiency Gardening; Financial, Physical, and Emotional Security from Your Own Backyard by Martin P. Waterman;
- Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest by Binda Colebrook; and
- The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour.
Other sources of good information can be found through internet searches, friends’ recommendations, library, seed catalogs, and your local nursery. I am fortunate to have Don’s Waterfall Nursery in my town of Tillamook, Oregon and they specialize in Edible Landscaping. They were not only a good source for plants, but I obtained lots of information there, suggestions, and asked hundreds of questions of them. Check your area for an Edible Landscape Nursery.
Skimming through those books gave me an idea of what was possible as far as the variety of plants available and some ideas for their use in landscaping. Next I needed to research my growing area. Many garden books have a section that will show you the USDA (US Dept. Agriculture) growing zones. If not, an internet search for USDA Grow Zones will bring up the information. Find your area on the map, take note of its Zone #, and pay attention to that number when you are looking for your plants. My area is a Zone 8, although last winter I would have said it was a Zone 7 (colder). Southern Florida and Hawaii are Zone 10. The smaller the number, the colder the area. A plant that is listed as only growing in Zone 10 will not grow in my area unless extreme measures are used to keep it from freezing, therefore I avoid plants that are only Zone 9 and 10 hardy. I also check out the maintenance requirements. There is no since planting something that will take enormous amounts of time to keep growing, when an easy-keeper will provide just as much food. You’ll need to know how much space a shrub, bush, or plant takes up also, so you’ll know how many you can plant in the available space.
Before buying the first plant, I recommend drawing everything out on graph paper and doing a layout. This need not be to scale, but just enough to give you an idea of how much area you have to work with and where you’d like to put in some edible landscaping. It is easier to erase on paper or redraw something than it is to dig it up and have to replant it later. Make sure you make note of where the sun is at different times of the year, where the shady spots are, and where the sun will shine on something all day long. Also look for those places that may be protected from the wind, for tender plants. Check out overhead power lines because those trees may look small when you buy them but they grow faster than you think. Figure it out – look from your back door, side door, from the driveway, from across the street, close your eyes and envision a cool, welcoming, shady and edible landscape! If you want fruit trees, think about all the fruit that may drop to the ground in a heavy wind – Do you want that over your driveway or walkway? Dropping fruit is a consideration for placement also.
Where can you use edible landscaping in your yard? Anywhere you want to! Some suggestions might be: the front entry way – arbors or privacy screens; for borders; along fence lines; for growing a green fence; to provide a cool inviting oasis; around a deck or patio; around the walkways, etc. Edible landscaping can also be a part of a permanent garden spot, or permanent bedding areas. You don’t need a large plot of land for this either. My edible landscaping is all on a small city lot, 50′ by 105 ‘ with the house, woodshed, driveway, and patio taking up about half of the lot. Because it is a small area I have to work with, I want to maximize the food growing space possible. My fruit trees will be space saving dwarf or semi-dwarf trees. They are easier to prune, to pick, not as many problems (I hope), and can be spaced closer together. Think about multi- purpose plants – those with edible flowers, leaves, fruit, or roots.
For your focus or color spots, think edible flowers, vegetables, and flowering fruit trees.
For your hedges, think edible flowers and fruits.
Some helpful book searches or internet searches on plant placement are: Food Not Lawns, Square Foot Gardening, Vertical Gardening, Urban Homesteading, Edible Landscaping, and Perennial Vegetable Gardens.
Time to Plant – Almost!
You’ve done your research, decided on your plants, and can almost taste your edible landscaping! Before you buy plants or seeds though, make a welcoming home for your new plants. Make sure your soil is good and inviting. Fertilize, spread compost, and enrich the soil – do whatever needs to be done well before planting day. Check with your local extension office if you need help in testing the soil PH or finding out what the soil in your area is lacking in, or has an abundance of.
Have your watering system figured out – hoses, buckets, rain barrels, sprinklers, or whatever you think you will need. My watering system has changed several times already, as I find out what works for me and what doesn’t. With a new landscape put in, you’ll be watering heavily the first year so the roots can settle in. Make sure this is easy for you to do. You don’t want to spend the energy and/or money on new plants/seeds, and then not take the time to water them as needed because the hoses are too short or it’s too much of a problem. If you are on a pay-as-you-use water system, you’ll need to consider the cost of water. Mine was $7 extra last month, a dry July, but that was mostly for my vegetable garden and I consider that well worth the price. Some folks may want to set up a rain barrel collection system from their rain gutters. Whatever will work for you!
Once your soil is ready, obtain your plants, handle tenderly, and plant. Remember to water faithfully, according to the plant’s needs – you did your research, remember?
Depending on the plants you selected, you may be eating out of your yard shortly, or in a year, or a few years in the case of some trees.
And remember, gardening is forgivable! You can always change what isn’t working in your yard, or what isn’t growing.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor – literally!
Have you ever considered edible landscaping? What would you plant?
Photo by Zest-pk.
And to Lynnae – Thanks for encouraging me to write this! It’s been fun!
Thanks for all the kind comments!
@Bellen – The Extension service is great – I signed up for their online monthly newsletters. And their monthly ‘to-do’ garden lists – they are specifically for my area! Great reminders of when to prune, fertilize, etc.
I read John Jeavons books for my general gardening research and found some great ideas. And yes, my perimeter beds are raised! Works great in soggy coastal Oregon. I have a lot of temporary containers now, including 6 pots of asparagus, all of which are waiting for their permanent beds going in this fall. My rainbow chard is a great colorful perennial – it’s just a matter of keeping the top cut off and not letting it go to seed :)I love eating fresh swiss chard in the dead of winter! Yum!
@make art – I hope you enjoy the reading and research as much as I did. It’s been a great learning experience, and even more fun when you actually start eating your own blueberries, raspberries, red currants, etc!
@erin – Yes, my herbs are in containers right now also. Year 3 of my plan will have them in permanent spots around the deck that is still not built! (After it’s built, of course!)
@Jill – I’m totally with you on gleaning. Apples and blackberries are the biggest “just pick them” crops around my area. And my grandkids love dried apples for snacks!
@Whit -Nice to plan on leaving something behind for the next renter. You’ll probably enjoy the next article on frugal ways to accomplish this! Freebies are great! And good luck with your research – in my area it was great winter reading.
@Cynthia – Big plastic tubs or big wooden dresser drawers or boxes are great for container gardens. I use them until the space is ready for the plants that I have scrounged for free or been given. I’ll be overwintering kales, herbs, and more raspberries in containers until their permanent places are ready for them.
@Andrea – good luck with your project and have fun with the researching! Some of the books are just fascinating reading! All those possibilities – so little space! (in my yard anyway!)
Good luck to all with your planning, and check in next week for tips on frugal ways to make your edible landscaping dreams come true!
What a great post! This is exactly what I plan to do with my backyard and this post is extremely timely in my planning.
I’ve given a little bit of thought to edible gardening, but have hesitated to do this in my front yard. I rent; I live on a very, very busy street and worry about exhaust, etc.; and the parts of the yard closest to my door are 100% shade.
This coming year will probably be my last one at this location. My kids will most likely be moving on – if the economy allows them to start out on their own (they’re 18 and 20). Hmmm, maybe I should think about transitioning to container gardening, lol!
Still, this post has me thinking in terms of possibilities! I’ll be checking out some of the resources mentioned – a perfect autumn/winter project.
I have a great little garden in the backyard, and produce has been prolific! I’ve been able to do some canning, freezing and drying. I’ve loved being able to make my own pesto too (pesto and homemade polenta – a heavenly combination! I’m hungry just thinking about it, lol!) and have even delivered some fresh veggies to a few of my clients (all of whom are adults with disabilities and very little income).
There’s so much more that I’d like to plant though…and I think that this may be a way to accomplish that!
Thanks for a great post – I’ll be looking forward to the next one!!!
Fantastic timing on a great topic! As a renter who now has free reign over a previously neglected flower “garden”, I have been contemplating what to plant. I want something aesthetically pleasing and “functional”, as well as something that future tenants don’t necessarily have to commit to (like a “real” garden). I think an edible garden is the way to go. This article provides a great starting point, as I was a bit intimidated by where to even begin to research! Merci Marci!
Also consider the edibles in your neighborhood which can be had from homeowners who don’t use them. This year, we’ve “put up” quarts and quarts of mulberries and concord grapes, given freely by folks who didn’t even know they had edible landscaping – they just wanted the fruit picked up! Mulberry trees are prolific, even in the city, and nobody knows what a delicious pie the berries make. We are looking forward to the free apples and pears that our neighbors will be calling us to come pick up, any day now.
Great planning. I would highly suggest using your local Extension Service. This is part of your state university system and is free or very low cost. They will give you specifics on varieties to plant that will do very well in your area.
Also, I would recommend any book by John Jeavons – especially ones on ‘growing more than you ever though possible’. While his gardens are raised beds they can easily be transferred to perimeter gardens or just islands. Container gardening can be very attractive around doorways, by walkways, etc.
And, don’t forget the pretty annual veggies such as Rainbow Chard, parlsey for edging and herbs for color.
My first foray into edible gardening was simply a few pots of herbs on the front stoop. There is nothing better than poking your head out the door to get fresh basil for your scrambled eggs, or rosemary for roasted potatoes! Each year I add a few more edibles. Last year it was some tomatoes and bell peppers in giant pots, and this fall I’ll be planting some berry bushes!