Incorporating Edibles Into Your Landscape
These days, as we move from lawn-centric yards to ones that offer a more eco-friendly and utilitarian purpose, we see more and more landscapers incorporating edibles as part of the landscape. The term “edibles” applies to fruits, vegetables, and herbs, as well as edible flowers and plants.
Whereas a traditional vegetable gardener might showcase neatly planted rows of fresh tomatoes and tender herbs growing in well aligned plots, someone who incorporates edibles into the landscape might take a more hodgepodge approach. Eclectic gardens such as these can be a feast for the eyes, a miscellaneous patchwork of color, texture, scent… and yes, taste!
In an edible garden, you might find a low-growing sage and a hedge of oregano among the most spectacular of iris plants. Or, perhaps there is a miniature lemon tree surrounded by succulents in complementary hues. Edible landscaping is all about creating a balance of beauty and function, being able to admire your garden as well as pick those flowers and leaves for dishes such as ice cream and tea.
So now that we’ve touched upon how edible plants can add so much to your yard… let’s talk about specifics, and where to begin creating an edible landscape of your dreams! Below, some questions you may have…
How do I know which edibles are right for my garden?
The type of edible plants you select for your backyard display will really depend on your plans for their use. Will you be growing herbs and other plants meant for specific recipes? For example, as a lover of lemon teas, you might incorporate a patch of lemon balm, lemon verbena or lemon grass in addition to the aforementioned lemon tree. Imagine the ease of being able to step out into the garden and pluck off a few fragrant leaves to steep in a nutritious and tasty brew whenever the urge strikes. Are there certain plants that classify as staples in your diet? Perhaps you enjoy cucumber dill salads all summer long, or can’t resist fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil with your grilled burger.
Once you’ve formed an idea in your head and know a bit more about what you’d like out of your garden, then it just boils down to picking the right plants and placing them. Which brings us to the next obvious question…
Where should I locate my edible plants?
Incorporation is the idea that one landscape element will fit well with another element; meaning that you want the edible plant to thrive alongside an inedible plant. A tall cactus with lots of needles wouldn’t be the best companion to a plant that has fruits to be harvested, nor would an herb be a good mate for a low growing bush. And as with any type of plants, edible or not, you want low-growing specimens facing a southerly direction, with medium sized plants behind them and the tallest plants in back, at the north-most point. If you have a lot of space to work with, you may wish to map out one or more garden beds in advance.
What’s the best method for incorporating edibles into my ornamental garden?
This really depends upon what stage of design your backyard is currently in. If this is a relatively bare yard and you’re starting from scratch, you can incorporate edibles from the first planting and design. If your garden is already in progress, select edible plants that would go well with the plants that already exist there. As mentioned, you can also plan out your garden bed by bed.
Choose complimentary pairings.
Make your choices carefully when determining which edible plant would go with which ornamental plant. Both plants should have similar water, sun, and soil needs. The plants should also complement each other in either color or texture. Choose plants that aren’t too far apart in size, this way one plant won’t dwarf another; as in the case of a bush growing over a small herb and eventually choking it out.
Keep moisture in mind.
As we covered in our article on Hydrozoning, plants with different water needs should not be placed near each other. A succulent really does not require much in the way of watering, and therefore if placed by a more moisture-loving plant, would likely rot from overwatering. Conversely, if you choose to honor the needs of the succulent rather than the water-loving plant, you might find that the latter scorches and dies in the hot California sun. When shopping for edible and ornamental plants, be sure to check the specific needs of each plant to ensure that they are at least water compatible.
Consider how much sun is needed.
While all plants need sun to grow properly, not all can withstand a full dose of its powerful rays. Delicate hydrangeas and begonias might not fare so well in the same area as certain types of sun-loving trees or grasses. Do your research ahead of time and pair up different types of plants with similar needs for sunlight. Also take into consideration that one plant can offer something that the other plant needs to thrive. For instance, you might surround your fruit tree by low growing shrubs that would be then shaded by the tree’s leaf-covered branches. Or, place delicate herbs near taller plants to obtain partial shade from them.
Don’t forget soil conditions.
It’s true that Southern California soil is generally dry, rocky and devoid of nutrients. Despite this, The Yard Fairy specializes in soil modification, enabling us to successfully grow a wide variety of plants which normally would not survive on their own in our arid climate. In addition to requiring adequate nutrition, some plants grow better in soil which has a more acidic pH, while others fare better in alkaline soil conditions. There are many ways to change the pH of your soil – for example, adding coffee grounds to the ground below your roses bushes will deliver the acidity the plants need to grow beautiful, robust roses. As with water and sun preferences, check the tag attached to the plant or ask your local nursery for help.
Arrange your edible and ornamental plants by color, choosing complementary or similar hues on the color wheel for specific areas of your yard. The red of a tomato that can be harvested from May to December would go well surrounded by the warm colors of a Indian Cress nasturtium, which blooms from the warmest days of summer until the chill of winter. The idea behind planting by color with edibles and ornamentals is that you don’t want either of the plants to stand out like a sore thumb. Strive for a uniform appearance in your garden, so that at first glance it doesn’t look like anything more than just beautifully arranged plants and flowers.
Also be aware of bloom time when plotting out your garden by color. If one bed features plants that all bloom all in one season, that particular area of the yard will look rather dull during the remaining three seasons. For the best blending method, select 1 to 2 similarly colored types that will grow within the same season. You should then always have color within your garden that is both ornamental and edible.
Are all flowers and plants edible?
No. Most are not edible, and many plants which can be safely consumed by certain animals can pose a risk to humans. While this shouldn’t stop you from placing them in your garden as a decoration, be careful to not accidently collect a leaf or flower from these plants for your dish. Also, if you have pets which roam about the garden, you may wish to educate yourself on which plants might be harmful to which animals – for example, rhododendrons are toxic to dogs.
Before choosing any plant for the edible aspect of your garden, make sure to thoroughly research whether that flower or plant is fit to eat. Use common sense. While some plants might just cause a stomach ache, there are those such as the oleander that are known to be lethal with the ingestion of just one leaf. And lest that deter you, don’t forget that many plants offer healing and medicinal properties. It pays to know which herbs and plants offer which nutritional benefits, as well as which ones might be harmful. To learn more, explore the resources we’ve provided, below.