Edible Garden Design
Photo by Angela West
A brick walkway intersects this herb and vegetable garden, which includes tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, onion, squash and herbs, including basil and comfrey, a medicinal herb that is abundant in England.
Trade traditional landscaping for an edible garden design. Edible plants, including herbs, vegetables, berries and fruit trees, stock your yard with the makings of wonderful, healthy meals. An edible garden design elevates a vegetable garden to a beautiful standard that looks good enough for a front yard. In their best forms, edible garden designs combine good looks and function into an eye-catching landscape.
Most food-producing plants, including fruit and nut trees, grow better and yield best when they’re tucked into sunny spots. As you contemplate an edible garden design, focus on the areas of your yard that get at least six hours of sun each day. Well-drained soil provides a better footing for most edible plants, although some herbs thrive in rocky, poor soil.
In edible garden design, edible plants fill the same landscape roles that other ornamental plants do. For example, instead of a rose or privet hedge, you might plant a row of blueberries, and a dwarf pear or apple might replace a small ornamental tree. A trellis covered with annual vines of morning glory or moonflower can just as easily support a cherry tomato or grapevine. Herbs like oregano or parsley make terrific edging plants, and leaf lettuces and basils create a display of color that rivals flowers.
While edible plants can substitute for ornamentals, you don’t have to—or even want to—replace every plant in your landscape with a food-producing crop. The prettiest and most effective edible garden designs incorporate a blend of plant types. Flowering annuals combine effortlessly with annual vegetables, like marigolds and peppers or zinnias and green beans. Alpine strawberries form a tasty, good-looking edging for perennial daylilies, lavender or campanula.
Come up with your own combinations based on colors and leaf textures. Pair the delicate texture of cosmos with chunky Tuscan kale or sculptural Brussels sprouts with a flounce of sweet alyssum. For match-ups that work, just be sure you’re putting plants together that need similar growing conditions.
Many food-producing crops are fleeting in nature, growing for a season or even part of a season, yielding a harvest and then needing to be removed from the garden. When you plan an edible garden design, keep this aspect in mind. Surround short-season crops, like snow peas or spinach, with plants such as annuals or perennials that will give the combination some sparkle when you pull the spent edibles.
Try to give your edible garden design strong lines using paths, bed edging, hedges or other structures. A patio, outdoor dining area, trellis or even carefully placed containers can also help define a garden’s structure. These strong elements carry an edible garden design through those windows when you have harvested or even pulled a crop. With strong lines, your garden won’t look empty and forlorn, but will still have an attractive form.
Slowly incorporate edible plants into existing landscapes. Start on a small scale, because when food-producing plants begin to ripen, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s also vital to plant only what you can maintain. Some edible plants can be demanding, and all edible crops need harvested—and that harvest has to be dealt with. If you plant too large an edible landscape, you run the risk of not keeping things in tip-top shape, which downgrades an edible garden design to an eyesore.