Edible landscaping has become a trend for many gardening enthusiasts. A combination of edible plants along with traditional ornamentals can create an artful presentation. There are some challenges when designing such a landscape, but in those challenges opportunities’ may be found. One of the most difficult challenges is making sure your garden or landscape is healthy and vibrant year-round since many edibles are short-lived annuals. These include plants such as eggplant, pepper, lettuce, artichoke and some annual herbs. There is a solution to this concern. First, know your edible plant’s propagation and maturity months. This way you can offset plantings to ensure color in your landscape. Another key measure is to mix some evergreen ornamentals in with short season edibles and long season edibles. Examples of long season edibles include berry shrubs, fruit trees and biennial or perennial herbs.
When designing your edible landscape, think about style and theme to help guide you through the process. A formal design has more straight edges and geometric shapes, whereas the more natural approach has meandering edges and irregular shapes. A color scheme in harmony is very important. Remember, an edible landscape should not just be a production food garden but a visual treat. The goal is not to grow a high yield garden, but only to produce supplemental edibles to make the endeavor worthwhile.
Dr. Gail Hansen, Associate Professor of Environmental Horticulture at the University of Florida, has developed twelve ideas when creating an edible landscape:
- Combine reliable, low-maintenance ornamental with edible plants. Use evergreen ornamentals to maintain enough green structure, so that potential cool season bare spots are not visual.
- Use support structures for an artistic effect and to assist in growth of some plants. Trellises, arbors and even tomato cages are some examples that can be used.
- Use containers in areas to keep the landscape more organized. Planters will also help in maintenance, as plants will be easier to reach and the soil will be easier to manage.
- Create some hard edges in your landscape. Raised beds, garden walls and borders will give defining lines to the landscape and promote a clean appearance.
- A pathway through the landscape will both provide an access to plants and give an inviting appeal. Brick pavers, gravel and mulch are good examples of pathway material.
- Remember color is key. Create a visually pleasing combination of plant color, form, texture and sizes.
- Always start by keeping it simple. So, start small and simple. Then, you can begin filling in the landscape.
- Look for one unique feature to create an added interest to you landscape and provide growth to plants. This could be a shade house for ferns and other hanging baskets or a hay bale, where lettuce, tomatoes or peppers could grow upon.
- Select appealing and easy to grow plants that you want to eat!
- Let plants reach maturity before taking them out of the landscape. For example, rainbow chard will grow larger, if allowed to continue to grow after seed has been produced.
- Use the Florida-Friendly Landscaping principle, “Right Plant, Right Place”, when adding edibles to your landscape. Match the growing needs with the most suitable location.
- Consider your location and layout for irrigation. All plants need some degree of water. An above ground drip irrigation system is usually the most flexible and adjustable irrigation method in regards to overall plant watering needs in a landscape.
Following Dr. Hansen’s ideas will help you create the edible landscape of your dreams. For more information on edible landscaping, please contact your local county extension office for more details.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS Publications, “Landscape Design with Edibles” by Dr. Gail Hansen: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP47500.pdf
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.