Container Gardening: Edible Landscaping Basics

Container Gardening: Edible Landscaping Basics

As slow food moves into our consciousness and home food production is becoming important for economic and environmental reasons many are torn between landscaping and vegetable gardens. Edible landscaping gives you the best of both worlds. With edible landscaping food production and attractive landscaping are not mutually exclusive.

There are many advantages of edible landscaping. In the diverse mixed plantings of an edible landscape you can produce food with relatively few pests without chemicals. There is no large monoculture to attract the pests. Food prices are going up faster than salaries at this point – the price of almost anything is going up faster than salaries right now – so producing your own food saves even more money than it did twenty years ago. Unless you buy fancy gardening gadgets you can increase your investment by 20 to 25 times by growing your own food.

Gardening and eating your own home grown vegetables also has stress reduction and health effects.

A beautiful landscape does not happen by accident and neither does food production. Start with careful planning. How much space do you have? What areas are sunny and what are shady? Make a drawing of your yard showing buildings and driveways, good views and areas where a tall hedge would be the best choice. Also mark existing trees and shrubs, slopes and prevailing wind direction.

Analyze your soil. Is it sandy, clay or loam? (See the post Soil Types, Problems and Solutions.) Is it overly alkaline or is there a caliche layer close to the surface? Or do you have “Housing Development Soil” which can have anything from fertile topsoil to chunks of concrete under a layer of semi-fertile fill dirt.

Once you know what you have you can plan your edible landscape to control climate, meet zoning regulations, conserve resources and produce the maximum possible food.

Deciduous trees and vines can be used to shade the south and west side of houses. In addition to common landscape choices grape vines, or any fruit or nut tree can be used for this purpose. Grape arbors can shade a large area like a patio or large south facing windows. Dwarf fruit trees work well for small spaces, standard fruit trees for medium areas and pecans or walnuts can be planted to eventually produce large areas of shade.

To conserve energy and water the lawn can be replaced with thyme, chamomile, strawberries, or other food plants. Often edible plants are not low water use plants. Some people justify this because the total environmental impact of growing your own food is so much lower than that of eating fruit and vegetables from California, Florida, Mexico, Chile and Honduras. To use as little water as possible make sure your soil has plenty of organic matter worked in to hold the water, use water harvesting techniques and drip irrigation.

Edible hedges can be made using apple, bamboo, carob, citrus, olive, dwarf pear, rosemary, pomegranate, elderberry, currant, roses, bush cherries or quince. Barrier plantings around the edge of the property can include raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, lemons, natal plums, prickly pear and roses.

Mixed flower and vegetable beds are central to edible landscaping. Consider flower color, texture, leaf size and shape and size of the plant, just as you would any other plant you put in a flower border. Many edible plants can be very effective in the flower border and can be used as fillers in the perennial bed. Often the flowers are also edible and can add interesting flavors and textures to salads and other foods. Be open to possibilities and your entire yard can be a source of beautiful, healthful food.

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