Edible Landscaping: Growing Your Own Food

Think your green thumb extends only to flowers? Expand your botanical and gastronomical horizons by integrating edible plants into your landscape design.
By: Alyson McNutt English


Growing fruit- and vegetable-bearing plants in your backyard is a great way to eat healthier, save money and reduce your impact on the environment — and it's not as difficult as you might think. It can be easy and beneficial to integrate edibles into your overall landscape design. You don't have to be a farmer to appreciate food from your own yard — in fact, you don't even have to have a traditional vegetable garden.

"It's not unusual to find edibles and ornamental (plants) coexisting, even if the owner isn't particularly interested in the possibility of a harvest," says Kris Bordessa, a former L.A.-based landscape architect who now lives on the big island of Hawaii and writes about landscapes and gardening at her Attainable Sustainable website.

Rosemary is a good example of this, she says. "It's available in quite a few cultivars, several of which are excellent groundcovers in dry conditions." But this undercover herb isn't the only edible plant that could — and maybe even should — already be a part of your garden. Make your plantings (and your kitchen creations) fresher and healthier by growing a gastronomically genius garden.

Plants That Look Good Enough to Eat

It's a misconception that fruits and vegetables are more about function (and harvest) than form. Many edible plants are botanical beauties in their own right. "Rhubarb, with its big, bold leaves, is a great landscape plant even if nobody ever harvests the stems," Kris says. "And strawberries make a good groundcover plant that will stay green throughout the growing season."

And some of the prettiest edibles come not from groundcover or small plants, but from trees. Many of the most beloved blossoming branches — like those on cherry, pear and plum trees — are modified versions of former fruit-bearing varieties. "The 'mess' of having fruit drop made the fruitless versions attractive (for a while), but I think the tide is changing," Kris says. "The idea of harvesting a crop and enjoying the flowers — as Mother Nature intended — has once again become desirable."

Designing an Edible Landscape

See All Photos
Get inspiration from the edible landscapes at gardening expert P. Allen Smith's Arkansas retreat.

Shop This Look

Flowers and Food, so Healthy Together

Farmers and backyard gardeners who use organic methods of pest control have long known what many other people are now finding out: Interspersing plants and vegetables can be a mutually beneficial arrangement. "Some flowers, like marigolds and nasturtiums, help repel certain insects that can cause damage to crops," Bordessa says. "And herbs like coriander, parsley and dill will attract beneficial insects like ladybugs who keep aphid infestations at a minimum."

Small-Space Edible Landscapes

See All Photos
Incorporate edibles into your small landscape using container and raised-bed gardening techniques. Find ideas at P. Allen Smith's gardens.

Shop This Look

Digging In Can Be Delicious

If all this talk about adding food to your flora has whet your gardening appetite, remember the first step to starting these plants is understanding them. "Some of these plants may start out cute and tiny, but they can get quite large," Kris says. "And while most vegetables like full sun, some do appreciate afternoon shade, especially in really hot locations." Talk to local nurseries and other gardeners to find out which edibles will thrive in your climate.

And remember, you don't have to go full-fledged food to add edible plants to your garden. "Lavender is well-loved for its scent, but the flowers can also be used in baking," Kris says. "Nasturtium and pansy flowers can be added to salads. And we can even give a nod to something not usually welcome in either vegetable or flower garden: Dandelion leaves are considered an early 'spring green' by some people!"

So no matter whether you're looking to dig in and veg out or you just want to add a few potential kitchen partners without disrupting your overall landscape, rest assured you can create a delicious design with plants that are, quite literally, good enough to eat.

Next Up

Choosing Plants for Your Landscaping

Get tips for selecting and placing plants that work for your yard.

How to Plant Bare-Root Vegetables

Discover the best way to plant asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries in your garden.

How to Plant a Three Sisters Garden

Native Americans devised the ingenious Three Sisters garden, a method whereby beans grow up corn stalks while squash plants serve as ground cover.

It's Not Too Late to Grow These 11 Tasty Plants

Didn't plant those tomatoes? Say hello to your fall friends: radishes, broccoli, greens and more! 

How to Install a DIY Drip Irrigation System

Learn how to install a highly efficient water delivery system that will help keep your landscape and gardens stay lush and quenched.

Prize-Winning Gardens at Chelsea

Tour the winning gardens at London's 2013 Chelsea Flower Show.

Natural Fences: Increase Your Home's Privacy With Plants

On the fence about what to do for privacy and yard division? Check out these ideas for natural fences to think beyond the picket fence.

Southwest Fruit Garden Plan

Plant the best berries and fruit trees for hot, dry areas, and create a beautiful destination sitting area for your yard.

Upper Midwest Fruit Garden

Create a beautiful destination sitting area for your yard, and enjoy the fruits of cold-hardy cultivars.

Ways to Extend Your Harvest This Winter

Get the most out of your garden this winter with these simple tips.

Go Shopping

Spruce up your outdoor space with products handpicked by HGTV editors.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.