In my opinion, one of the most beautiful features in any home landscape is a vegetable garden. Not everyone agrees. In fact, some homeowner’s associations specifically prohibit vegetable gardens. But just because you don’t have space for a vegetable garden or are forbidden to have one doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own food.
Vegetables and fruits are typically grown in long, straight rows. They are just as happy growing in flower beds, along a foundation, in hedgerows or in containers. This is called “foodscaping,” the practice of integrating edible plants into an existing ornamental landscape.
You can beautify your landscape and feed your family at the same time. You are going to care for your landscape by watering, weeding and fertilizing anyway, so why not reap an additional benefit?
While the term “foodscaping” is relatively new, the concept is ancient. Archeologists have determined that edible plants were part of home landscapes in ancient Rome, Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Assyria. It wasn’t until the world’s population became urbanized and food production moved to farms outside of cities that home landscapes became food deserts.
One of the benefits of foodscaping is that pests and diseases have a hard time destroying an entire crop. Think of a typical vegetable garden. An insect or mammal could chomp its way down a row of carrots in a single night of destruction. But if those carrots are scattered among shrubs, flowers, and a few other pretty vegetable plants, most of them have a good chance of surviving. As for windborne plant diseases, they can’t travel from tomato to tomato, for example, if other plants are blocking their pathway.
Your landscape has shrubs in it, right? Instead of spirea, potentilla, lilacs and weigelia, why not substitute currant, gooseberry, hazelnut, elderberry or sage? Instead of clematis, your trellis could support climbing beans or grapes. For trees, swap in apple, pear, cherry, plum, mulberry or serviceberry. Instead of vinca as a ground cover, try alpine strawberries, regular strawberries, thyme, or creeping mint. Chives and garlic chives have beautiful flowers in mid-summer. For an edge of greenery, plant parsley, carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce and other salad greens.
Many food plants have “ornamental” versions. If you are going to plant something, why not plant the edible version? Pears, plums, cherry, currant, peppers, and kale are examples.
If you are averse to planting zucchini and beans in your flower bed, consider growing edible flowers. Nasturtiums, violets, daylilies, johnny-jump-up, roses, lavender, pansies, impatiens and roses are all edible. Do some research to find the best way to use these blooms.
If container planting is your preference, there are a multitude of vegetable cultivars specifically developed for container growth.
You don’t have to replace your entire landscape. Just tuck one tomato plant in a sunny spot along your home’s foundation, or plant some pretty basil among other annuals in a flower bed. Of course, you shouldn’t use chemical pesticides or herbicides in areas where you are growing edibles.