Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Quick Guide to Creating an Edible Landscape

Last year's "jungle" of a garden was quite popular with the neighborhood kids.  It was perfect for the younger ones to play hide and seek or tag, but the older kids also enjoyed it immensely for their battles with Nerf guns!
Lawns are evil and must be destroyed.  Yes, it is true.  They sap resources and usually serve no purpose whatsoever.  I've long thought that gardens were a much prettier use of a limited yard space, ever since I first saw such a thing in Germany when I was 13 years old (it was actually West Germany at the time, but whatever).  As I grew up (and grew poorer), I realized that edible landscapes combine a lot of the aesthetic principles that make a garden more visually appealing than a boring green monoculture of grass (which is most likely an invasive species to boot), but also provide free or at least extremely cheap food!

Here is my quick guide to getting started in edible landscaping:

1)  Figure out what plants your family eats.  Make a complete list of every fruit, vegetable, and, if you think you might have the space, grains you ever buy and eat.  Don't worry about whether it is possible to grow them in your climate at this stage.  You are basically brainstorming at this point.

2)  Go through your list and figure out what can conceivably be grown in your area.  This can be more difficult that in seems, if you want it to be anyway.  Sometimes there are varieties of plants that will survive in your climate, if you just take the time to look for them.  For example, I'm currently trying to grow bananas in Michigan and my mom discovered a cold hardy variety of pecans that she's going to be growing.  I've also seen cold hardy kiwis, as another example.  If you want to stick with the "normal" plants for your area, that's fine too, of course, but it just limits what you can produce in your yard.  If there is a plant you really want that isn't hardy for your area (like pineapples in my case), you may want to consider adding a small greenhouse to your landscaping plans or growing it in containers and overwintering it in your house.

The curve on the left matches the driveway and the
tomatoes on the right are climbing the lamppost
3)  Plan your garden around your available space.  In the front section of my yard, there is an irregular shaped space caused by a weird curve in the driveway.  A linear garden wouldn't work well there, but the curved, freestyle rock-lined garden I put there works great.  I further incorporated existing elements of the yard into that garden by putting the corner of it around the lamppost that was there and using that as a vertical support for tomatoes last year (I'm thinking cucumbers will grow up it this year).  If you have limited space, you may also want to consider focusing on high yield plants for the space, like tomatoes or cucumbers, or things that grow in different seasons so you can cram two or three plantings in the space.  In one season, I might use the same space for lettuce, then tomatoes, then spinach.  Another small space trick is to use a lot of vertical gardening spaces, whether it be a shelf like I'm using in the above garden this year (see yesterday's post), attaching planting space to walls, hanging baskets, traditional trellises, or a PVC frame like I have on my square foot gardening boxes.
Pumpkin, tomatoes, and cucumbers growing on a vertical frame last year.  That's a lot of plants for four square feet of garden space!  This also created a feeling of privacy on the patio by creating a visual separation between the patio and the street.
That's basically it.  I sometimes oversimplify things in my mind, so if I missed something, feel free to add comments with your own tips or questions.  Or, if you want to get started and just want more ideas and inspiration, the following books are great.  Some of them have more "how-to" and others are more purely for the pictures, but either way will get your brain rolling!

This post and lots of other great ideas can be found on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways


  1. Another factor you might want to consider is your neighbor's reaction to your front yard garden. You can create an edible landscape that is both productive and beautiful. For instance, consider wild strawberries or sweet potatoes as groundcovers. wide-row carrots look like ferns, and a bean pole tee pee is an attractive play area. Visit http://lawnlesstrials.blogspot.com for more ideas.

  2. I think it looks great. I would love to try to do something like this. It would be fun I have never done a garden of any kind we'll see if it turns out. I love your blog i'm so glad I found it. I'm now following. I would love it if you stopped by to visit me @http://www.arosiesweethome.com/
    I host a Sunday linky party every week if you would like to come and share.