It’s a fact that when we grow our own food, even a tiny portion of it, we are creating a more vibrant and sustainable world. With that in mind, when designing a landscape, why not make it edible? Fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they also provide us with nourishment and contribute to a more viable ecosystem. And a growing trend in sprawling urban areas and towns is doing just that, using a well-known agricultural pastime called edible landscaping.
In simple terms, edible landscaping is the integration of food producing plants into an ornamental, decorative setting. It’s when we use the earth and the soil beneath us to grow plants that not only bring forth beauty, but also provide nourishment to our body and spirit. Edible landscaping is a way to grow vegetables, berries, herbs, fruits, nuts, and ornamental plants in an attractive, beneficial, and harmonious way.
Although this may be your first time hearing about it, edible landscaping is far from a new idea. Indigenous cultures around the world have been cultivating small scale food plots for generations. Ancient Persian gardens often included edible plants mixed with ornamentals; and French kitchen gardens were filled with a diverse mix of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and ornamentals alike. Even in the earlier half of the twentieth century, it was very common to find fruits and vegetables growing in backyards throughout America. Unfortunately, as industrial agriculture became more popular, Americans gave up on growing food and instead began focusing on lawns and decorative foliage. Fortunately there is a growing interest in edible landscaping; and home gardening is seeing an increase in urban areas where it’s especially needed.
There is an environmental and ecological aspect of growing an edible landscape that offers countless benefits. Among the most evident are energy savings, the ability to grow organic foods, financial savings, and nutrition. Growing our own food also gives us the ability to cut back on the use of agricultural chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers.
Traditionally, urban areas such as Los Angeles were considered to be isolated and unproductive. But the natural fabric of this agriculturally rich city is beginning to take on the edible landscaping trend. Farmers markets decorate the city with fresh produce, small gardens are popping up in backyards, and many urban areas have started their own community gardens. The collective goal is to ecologically balance the city, and form a more sustainable urban ecosystems. Once you plant an apple tree, you don't have to plant it again next year—and you can reap the benefits of an annual harvest. That’s the general idea.
When you decide to create an edible landscape, especially in an urban area such as Los Angeles, it’s important to think things through, understand your climate, and work with nature (not against it). Most fruits and vegetables require 6‐8 hours of sunlight to produce well; so be sure to think about location, plant size, soil, time, and care. Urban agriculture can be a bit tricky at first, which is why it’s important to research proper planting techniques—such as how to harvest ripened produce, methods of irrigation, and the use of organic fertilizers, just to name a few.
Design elements for edible landscaping typically revolve around a few key points: choosing a location perhaps near a patio, fence, hedges, or garden beds—and conditions such as sunlight, and soil type. This is an important step because most edible landscapes are more inclined to have plants with a variety of textures, shapes and sizes. Next, you’ll want to choose the plants. Make a list of plants that will grow well together, and have similar climate needs. With your list in hand, the final step will be to plan your design. There are several food producing plants that can be added to your landscape; and it’s a good idea to think about which of those plants will combine well with ornamental ones. You can grow herbs such as rosemary, thyme, or oregano in an herb bed on a patio—or tall bushels of fruit-bearing shrubs like blueberries and currants near a fence. Again, it will take planning to figure out which plants will work best for your particular space.
Linda Ly authors a blog called Garden Betty, where she writes about growing her own food, outdoor adventures she takes to different places—along with recipes that are based on the items from her own back yard. Ly focuses on where food is grown, how accessible it is, and how you can transform your life with fresh ingredients and healthy eating. It’s a great way to read about this popular trend, and get a few tips for integrating edible plants into your own landscape.
Another great blog to visit is called Phigblog. This is a site where you will see a more focused approach to edible landscaping in urban areas. Here, you can find information on several different varieties of food producing plants, ways to integrate them into smaller spaces, and tons of pictures to go along with it.
Creating an edible landscape takes serious work—but there’s an undeniable satisfaction one receives when they’re able to grow and harvest fresh food from the spaces around them. With edible landscaping, the possibilities are only limited to your imagination!