Via the Ethicurean, I stumbled across an article about edible landscaping at the University of California, Davis. Davis is known for being a big agricultural school, with one of the best veterinary programs in the country in addition to a huge wine program. Being in the Central Valley, the school also does a lot with agriculture, conventional and organic.
But I like the logical step of edible landscaping, partly because it is something I have had in my own life. Everywhere that I have been able to have a garden, the landscaping has integrated edible plants. Most flowers, to start with, are edible, and a large number of vegetables look good as well as tasting good. Chard, for example, which is discussed in the Davis article. Chard looks pretty damn buff, with the brightly colored stalks and fanning leaves.
Many people have created an artificial divide in their minds between landscaping and gardening, believing that a landscape is something which is supposed to look pretty, but not always be functional. In fact, I think landscaping which integrates seasonal vegetables is actually more handsome than conventional landscaping, because something is always alive and vibrant in the garden. Many gardens go dormant during the winter, with brown drooping leaves and depressed looking plants. Insert some beets and chard in there, and the whole garden will suddenly come alive again, which is a pretty neat trick if you ask me.
You certainly aren’t obligated to make your entire garden edible, but a good place to start is with herb borders. In addition to smelling good, making a smooth border, and retaining green growth, herbs are delicious, and a great way to make cooking more exciting. Some herbs such as lavender and rosemary will grow to formidable heights, while others such as oregano, sage, and thyme may stay relatively small, but still pack a punch. Herbs also tend to require minimal care, with many thriving on fairly dry soil.
In the winter when the garden is gloomy, beets and chard will liven it up, but many other greens including kale can also be coaxed into growing year round. Potatoes look cool, have neat little white flowers, and can be planted to grow almost year round. You just have to remember where the little buggers are hiding so that you don’t have a potato explosion in the next year. Lettuce and other salad greens are just starting to peter out in November, but in warmer areas you might be able to grow through the winter. Lettuce makes a nice backsplash of green color and you can pick it by the head or leaf whenever you feel like it.
This is also the season for squash, with a huge number of winter squash coming in. Plant the small seedlings at the beginning of the summer and by October they will be languidly sprawling across the garden paths, heavy produce starting to ripen on the vine. Make sure to stake up the trailing vines so that they get lots of sun exposure, and in rainy areas they won’t sit on soggy ground.
And if you’re thinking long term about beautiful edible landscaping, and you have the room…plant fruit trees. Fruit trees look awesome year round, covered in new green growth in the spring which yields to bright flowers. As the summer progresses the flowers will slowly turn into hard green nuggets of fruit, which will ripen and turn brilliant colors in the fall as the leaves start to vanish. Through the winter, the craggy branches in the garden have a certain appeal as well. And if you’re feeling ambitious, you can install some bee hives under your fruit, to ensure pollination and reap the benefits of delicious honey.
Gardens do not need to be dull and static. In addition to providing green respite to the eye, a garden can nourish you, and ought to. Ambitious gardeners are starting to think about the spring garden, wandering around the dwindling greenery and imagining next year’s shape and theme…why not throw some edibles in the mix? When the revolution comes, you will be thankful for the ability to eat the landscaping.