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Archive date:  March 29, 2009

The Edible Landscape

What approach is right for you?

We all suffer from sticker shock every time we go to the grocery store. Last summer I paid $4.99 for three tomatoes. I still can’t believe it. I can’t believe three tomatoes were priced at $4.99 and I can’t believe I paid it. I know how to grow tomatoes. I just didn’t. I got busy with other stuff. Let it suffice to say, that memory has persisted. This year it is going to be different. Like many of you, I live in a neighborhood where having a full blown garden in the front yard might be frowned upon. The good news for us all is that you don’t have to live on an acre lot in the country to have plants that contribute to the table. Edible landscaping offers an alternative to conventional residential landscaping; a choice for those of us that have previously only had landscapes designed solely for ornamental purposes. Utilizing whatever space you have to plant an edible landscape/ vegetable garden is smarter now than ever. Any way you look at it, if you love digging in the dirt, or just hate the high price of produce, making use of whatever space you have just makes sense.

Edible landscapes can be just as attractive, yet produce fruits and vegetables you can enjoy. You can install an entirely edible landscape, or simply incorporate elements into your existing yards and gardens.

So you’re thinking to yourself, “Exactly what is edible landscaping”? Essentially, edible landscaping is the use of food-producing plants in the landscape; primarily residential landscapes. Edible landscapes combine fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and ornamental plants into aesthetically pleasing designs. These designs can blend into any garden style and can include anywhere from a plant or two to a full blown salad bowl landscape…without the bowl, of course.

There are many reasons to incorporate edible plants into your landscape. I’ve already covered the saving money aspect, but it is a great activity that is fun…and away from your computer. You can grow varieties of foods that are uncommonly found in stores while producing your very own “organically produced” produce. I am not sure why, but when you grow some of your own food, it just tastes better.

Throughout history, “growing your own” has been an essential part of survival. Even Persian gardens combined both edible and ornamental plants. Medieval gardens included fruits, vegetables, flowers, and medicinal herbs. Plants used in 19th century English suburban yards, in which their plans were modeled after large country estates, often included edible fruits and berries. The edible components of residential landscapes have been almost completely lost in this country to shade trees, lawns, and foundation plantings. It is not surprising that recent history suggests that more of a “Victory Garden” approach to our landscapes is inevitable.

So where do you start? Edible plants are well…plants. Growing edible landscape plants will not be much different than growing anything else. Most edible plants, however, require a bit more attention to produce well. They may require a little extra watering, pruning, fertilizing, or pest management. To care for a fruit tree, for instance, may take only a few hours a year, but the yield could be enormous. It is best to treat edible landscaping as a hobby and not a chore; hobbies are a lot more fun. You may find yourself checking on your plants more than they require, just because you want to see how they're doing. If you are concerned about it all being too much for you to handle, just start small. The time required, need not be an enormous burden. Just like plants used in the landscape, edible plants grow best in favorable conditions. Most fruits and vegetables do best where they receive at least 6 hours of full sunlight a day. Most also like well-drained soil. Where you have places in your yard that satisfy these conditions are usually good places to start. To perform a complete makeover on these areas, consult our staff, for a full design process. To start simply, consider a one-for-one substitution. In the past, where you might have planted a shade tree, plant a fruit tree; where you need a deciduous shrub, plant a fig or blackberry. Where you have always had chrysanthemums, plant pansies—you can eat them. Edible plants come in nearly all shapes and sizes and can perform the same landscape functions as ornamental plants.

There are nearly unlimited ways to incorporate elements of edible landscape into your garden. You might build a grape arbor, replace a hedge with blueberries, train raspberries to grow up your fence, put pots of herbs on the patio, construct or purchase a large decorative container put a cylindrical wire frame in the center and plant with your favorite tomato plant, then plant colorful sweet peppers around the edges. The only actual limit is your imagination. By incorporating just one—or many—edible plants into your home landscape, you may find a new relationship with your yard as well as the food you eat.

So what do we have on our “Edible Landscapes Menu”? This list will evolve over the course of the spring as we continue our search to give you the most extensive selection in this area. In the coming weeks, we will be giving you in depth information about all of the plants through this newsletter as well here in our website www.batesnursery.com. Put the search word “Edible” (without the quotes) in the search box on our front page or search tab for a complete list with prices and availability.

See you soon,

David Bates

p.s. We have a special this week…purchase any forsythia, get one of equal or lesser value free! While supplies last, so come on out this week!