We plant, water and fertilize. Then, we mow and throw all that green growth away. What a waste! Why not plant, water, fertilize, harvest and eat? I’m not advocating eating grass; but, with water such a precious resource in the arid west, can we justify using it on plants, such as lawn, that are merely aesthetic? Perhaps edible landscaping is the answer. An edible landscape can please the eye as well as the palette; looking beautiful, feeding the soul and the body.
We have simply gotten out of the habit of eating our landscapes as our grandparents did. We have allowed others to grow our food, choosing to decorate our homes rather than feed ourselves. Instead of planting ornamental crabapples, plums or cherries, we could plant varieties that produce fruit. Why plant a fruitless mulberry tree when the fruit is so delicious? Instead of choosing a bush just for its looks, we might select raspberries, blackberries, grapes, currants or quince. For our borders and flower beds, we could add rhubarb as a stunning large-textured accent plant, or chives as a compact colorful border that blooms early in the season. The pansies and nasturtiums that color our baskets are quite attractive in a salad. The foliage of red cabbage or of the many types of lettuce adds interest throughout a flower bed. We don’t have to trade off appearance to eat our yard.
Eating locally is a rapidly growing movement. It saves fuel in shipping, supports local growers and provides fresher food. A person can’t get much more local than her or his own backyard. We can move away from the traditional petrochemical intensive landscape with its large lawn toward a culinary delight of fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables growing in a compost-rich soil. Our landscaping practices can be more environmentally sound and more nutritious. Research shows that kids eat more veggies and fruits when they help grow them.
Edible landscaping requires a little thoughtful planning. What foods do you and your family like to eat? Where should specific plants be placed? Will the fruit from the trees damage patios, walks, cars or furniture? Will you harvest the produce before the critters eat it all? Also consider all the factors of a regular landscape: beauty, function, water-use and maintenance. Then research what variety will taste and look best.
The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, written by Rosalind Creasy in 1982, is my bible on this topic. It includes an encyclopedia of plants and sections on design. A 2010 version is now available. Plan on eating your yard this summer.