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.