Edible gardens are a fascinating and fun way to landscape your home. They perform double duty, not only providing a bountiful harvest, but also creating a distinctive and beautiful aesthetic. These gardens can be narrow in focus or broad and diverse with lots of color, texture, shape and size. Although edible landscaping has recently increased in popularity, these gardens have been around for some time. Historically, they have been referred to as Victory Gardens or French potager. Today, there are countless sensational plant varieties that make it even easier to blur the lines between traditional landscapes and productive gardens. Here are some ideas to enhance or completely renovate your current landscape.
FOUNDATIONS FOR SUCCESS
1. To start, shift the paradigm by rejecting that vegetables and other edibles need to be in rows. Edible flowers, herbs and veggies can mingle with shrubs and trees in the landscape. Let them blend together in free flowing, yet thoughtful pairings to create an interesting design. Flowers encourage pollinators (imperative for fruit production) and add color and texture. Visualize flowing forms, textures and colors that begin low at the bed's edge and rise up and away.
2. Develop a plan. Determine your objectives for both production and aesthetics. It also helps to think of different areas around your home landscape as "rooms," both in terms of entertaining or playing, as well as the "crops" you want. As you plan, don't forget to allow space for plants as they grow.
3. Look down. Every gardener, researcher, educator and horticulture professional will agree that a great garden starts with healthy, living soil. This is especially true for edibles that provide us with nutrients. Poor soil? No problem - go up! Use containers and raised beds to provide good soil for your edibles to thrive. Also be sure you have access to clean water and that the sun exposure matches your plants' needs.
WHAT TO PLANT
Below are some of my favorite plants for an attractive and productive edible landscape.
Annuals: Two types of amaranth, Red Leaf Giant and Love Lies Bleeding, are stunning plants remarkable in their size, foliage and flower. They provide a large focal point, cascading flowers and edible leaves and seed. Parsley gives a ferny, soft texture to beds, borders and mixed containers. Fragrant basil loves our heat and is available in a huge variety of flavors, colors, textures and sizes. Lemon verbena, versatile in cooking and salads, is a must-grow. It can be grown in a pot and overwintered inside. And then there is the exceptional variety of colorful and tasty tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, cabbages and squash that make up our seasonal gardens. To add whimsey, incorporate purple broccoli or chartreuse cauliflower.
Perennials: Many herbs come from this category and can provide foundation and structure in our otherwise seasonal gardens. Lavender and sage (Salvia officinalis) come in silver gray, golden variegated, tricolor and purple. Lemon balm, oregano, chives, strawberries and mints are also strong performers.
Shrubs: These provide structure and help define one space from another by screening or creating barriers. For something unique, incorporate currants or gooseberries. Currants not only provide fruit, but are attractive and drought-tolerant. Raspberries, blackberries and grapes are also great performers for multiseason interest. Acid-loving blueberries typically struggle in the Treasure Valley's alkaline soils; try growing them in containers where the soil chemistry can be controlled.
Fruit trees: Apples, plums and other fruits offer shade, structure and an abundance of flowers and fruit. If space is limited, grow three-way espaliered apples, which are grafted with complementary pollinating varieties of three types of apples. For improved production and fruit quality, prune peaches and cherries with open centers. Notable performers are Mount Rainier, a beautiful self-fertile "white" cherry, and Asian pears, which are prolific in our climate.