It’s called foodscaping – landscaping with edible food plants – and it’s catching on like wildfire all over the globe. The basic idea and motivation behind it is that if you are going to spend the money, water, time, effort and other resources on landscaping you may as well do it for something you can eat. After all, with the impending water shortages we all are facing, it makes a great amount of sense to only utilize our precious water reserves on something we can also benefit from not just look at. This also goes a long way to supporting the fact that we are quickly running out of usable agricultural land and are facing a food supply problem in the very near future as well. If every home in America turned a portion of their land into a garden large enough to sustain their own family, that would go a long way to easing the burden on our agricultural production which is already straining to produce enough food to feed us all.
Foodscaping is a concept that makes a bit more sense in the cities and suburbs, because in the country, you would have to protect your edible landscaping from the deer and other critters or expect to share it with them. So in the country, it makes more sense to have one large fenced area to keep the critters out.
City dwellers are catching onto the fact that if you have to maintain, fertilize, water and groom grass, why not use the same efforts on something you can really enjoy, like homegrown tomatoes; which cannot be matched in flavor by any store-purchased tomatoes and are getting ridiculously expensive. Many apartment dwellers have learned the concept of container gardening on decks and patios, now the same basic principle is spilling over to homeowners with small city lots.
The foodscaping concept works best for the backyard of a city home, because some cities have ordinances against growing anything they might consider unkempt or unsightly in the front yard, which often leaves out garden plants. You would have to mulch a front yard garden and keep it immaculate and weed free, but even then, we have heard of some city ordinances having a problem with anything other than a grass lawn on the street side of the property. Some cities like everything to look the same and conform. So check with your city offices before attempting a front yard vegetable garden. Most cities couldn’t care less what you do with your backyard because nobody sees it.
Some good plants for foodscaping are tomatoes, lettuces, asian greens, peppers, melons, squash, any member of the cabbage family, just about any food plant can be made to look ornamental in landscaping if it is kept free of weeds and mulched well. Throw in a couple self-pollinating fruit trees if you have the room, or berry bushes / patches since berries are so expensive and rarely ever anything but moldy and rotten when you finally get them in the grocery store.
The only food plant that really does not lend itself well to foodscaping is corn, due to the fact that corn must be grown in a very large patch because it’s wind pollinated and so requires being in close contact with a great many other corn plants in order to pollinate properly. In order to grow corn and have it produce anything worthwhile requires a corn patch that is a minimum of 6-8 rows wide and long, which requires a great deal of space. Corn is also a very heavy feeder and requires a lot of nutrients, so overall, it ‘s not very practical for foodscaping considering all it’s requirements and that it is only a starch that does not offer much in vitamins or minerals and thus is really not worth wasting the extra space, water and fertilizer on. There are much more nutrient beneficial food plants to use.
The best thing to do if you are going to convert your lawn into a garden is to plan it out on paper first. The fruits and vegetables you will be able to grow will primarily be determined by how much space you have, how much time you have and your climate, but you would be amazed what you can grow if you know how to take advantage of any microclimates your property may offer along with some container planting techniques here and there if allowable. Shallow-rooted, small vegetables like beets, radishes, kohlrabi etc, don’t require much space and can be planted almost anywhere the soil is loose enough. They can even be planted in trays that are at least 6 inches deep, or other large planters and kept on a deck or patio. They prefer cooler microclimates such as an area of partial shade, and don’t require much work once established; just water.
We highly recommend laying out your foodscaping idea on paper, mapping out where your beds should be for food plants that like a little shade and those that need full sun, as well as where to put bushes and larger plants so they don’t shade smaller ones etc. Putting in an irrigation system will save a ton of time and mapping out your foodscaping will make it much easier for you to figure out what kind of irrigation setup you will need and where.
If you want to keep some of your lawn, a design that is very popular and works well is to keep the grass in the middle of your property and arrange foodscaping beds all along the perimeter as border plantings. That way you still have lawn that’s easy to mow, and you are utilizing the outer edges of it that are difficult to mow or would require weed whacking.
Plants that make good container plantings:
Cherry or determinate tomatoes – meaning they only get to a certain size, whereby indeterminate tomato vines will keep on growing as long as weather will allow, getting quite large and requiring much more space. Peppers of all varieties do very well in pots as well as most herbs.
Herbs have many benefits for foodscaping: Splash some herb plants around for added color and interest, to repel insects, and for culinary and medicinal purposes. Our companion planting column of Garden Circkles will come in handy for this as many fragrant and flowering herbs can be used to naturally repel insects. Check our article archives and follow this page for new companion planting information and techniques. Many herbs make beautiful flowers and can be used as ornamentals here and there while still giving added food benefits to your efforts. Plant culinary herbs such as basil, thyme, sage, chives, oregano, or tea herbs such as mint, anise hyssop, lemon balm, pineapple sage and more. Fresh herbs are much more flavorful and have more nutritional benefits than the dried variety that’s been sitting on store shelves for months and years. No kitchen garden should be without them.
Backyard orchards are making a huge comeback, as well as using grape trellises for ornamental purposes – see our article on grape arbors below. If you can afford it, nothing beats a backyard greenhouse because they are so much easier to control the climate of, you can extend your growing season much longer, and they are much less work. We will be publishing a greenhouses guide soon to help you determine which styles and structure material may be best for your location.
Local restaurants are even using the foodscaping concept in what they call kitchen gardens. Their use of just-picked fresh edibles such as salad greens in their restaurants has become very popular. If they can find the time to do it, so can you.