Many gardeners live for blooming flowers and stately shrubs. Others prefer rows of juicy vegetables and fruit trees. A few gardeners enjoy both in their landscape. But how often do you see ornamentals and edibles grown in the same bed? Foodscaping is a trend in its infancy, but it's growing fast!
What is Foodscaping?
Foodscaping is a design concept where edibles are intentionally added to your existing framework of ornamentals. The result is stunning beds that also feed your family. This practice is the perfect marriage of form and function.
How does one begin foodscaping? Writer and foodscaping expert Brie Arthur recommends starting small: a lettuce border along a bed, kale in with coleus, or edible grains posing as ornamental grasses. As you become more comfortable mixing these two worlds you will grow more adventurous. Sunflowers and corn make a bold backdrop for zinnias and a natural privacy screen. Hydrangea branches are an excellent support for larger tomato plants. Climbing beans look like ornamental vines, winding up your porch railing. When it's dinner time, your produce is conveniently close at hand.
The benefits are obvious. Homeowners enjoy fresh food at lower costs. Without the dozens of middlemen between farm and table, the risk of food-borne illness is lower, as is the carbon footprint. And of course, there is the joy of a new challenge.
Right Plant, Right Place
To build a successful foodscape, the right plant must be in the right place. Choose edibles that will thrive in the same conditions as your existing landscape plants. Focus on perennials, low-maintenance plants, and self-sowing herbs to save time and money. Drought-tolerant edibles would be a plus, since many edibles require more water than typical landscape plants.
Also consider "hydrozones" when choosing plant locations. This means grouping plants together that have similar water needs. You'll save money this way because you'll only need to irrigate the clumps of plants that require it. Please note that reclaimed water should not be used on edibles due to possible contamination from pathogens.
If you are planting your foodscape in the front yard, make sure your homeowners association will allow it first (if applicable). You may also find neighborhood dogs, cats, and kids tampering with your veggies if your front yard is not fenced. Be sure to always wash edibles before enjoying them!
The main appeal of foodscapes is that they are useful and beautiful, so develop a design before planting. Consider how your foodscape will look throughout the year since you'll likely plant a mix of annuals and perennials. Then, decide on a design style or theme that will guide your plant choices. For example, you could design a formal garden with straight edges or go with a more natural theme that features organic shapes. Create interest by varying textures and sizes, while using patterns to cultivate a sense of unity. Following a color scheme can also promote harmony in the foodscape.
Here are ten tips for designing an effective foodscape:
- Combine reliable ornamentals with edible plants. Since the edibles may not look nice year-round or during extreme weather, having a solid mix of colorful and interesting ornamentals will keep the foodscape looking healthy.
- Add aesthetically pleasing structures such as tomato cages, trellises, and arbors to support plants and add architectural details. This is a great opportunity to repurpose materials you already have.
- Incorporate planters into the design to keep it neat, provide interest, and make maintenance easier. An attractive compost bin can also be placed in a convenient location.
- Create neat edges by installing garden walls, edging, wattle, borders, curbing, or raised planters. Recycled material options include logs, bamboo, wine bottles, street signs, bowling balls, and used timber. Get creative!
- Place pathways to connect plantings and make plants easier to access. There are many options for materials, but one that is permeable is best so water can drain into the soil.
- Consider mature size when choosing where to plant something. Plants that grow too large for their location will require maintenance and make the foodscape look messy.
- Start with a small test area and keep it simple. Once you've found success with your micro-foodscape, continue to expand it.
- Select edibles with ornamental qualities that you will enjoy eating, and perhaps are not readily available at the supermarket (think lemongrass, edible flowers, or tropical fruits). Many edibles can serve double-duty, such as blueberry bushes as a hedge or strawberry plants for a groundcover.
- Allow edibles to live out their lifecycle, even once they are no longer producing. Some will provide lovely flowers for pollinators or grow into impressive ornamentals (as Swiss chard will).
- Consider your existing irrigation system when choosing plant locations. Intentionally place thirsty plants near the irrigation system. Keep in mind that all plants will need irrigation as they are getting established.
When fertilizing, follow the UF/IFAS recommended application for each specific crop. You can also amend the soil with compost or other organic materials to build the soil, provide nutrients, and increase the water-holding capacity. Perform a soil test annually to monitor soil health.
Mulching your foodscape will help prevent weeds, water evaporation, and soil temperature fluctuation. It will also help keep produce and plants clean. Use leaves, hay, or straw for tender vegetables, and apply a two to three inch layer of wood chips or pine bark mulch for shrubs and fruit trees (except citrus due to root rot). Pull mulch away from the base of crops to prevent disease and plant damage.
Add pollinator-friendly plants in your garden to invite beneficial insects to your foodscape. Consider providing habitats for birds, toads, bats, and lizards as well, since they will assist with pest management. With this increased biodiversity, you can expect less-dramatic pest infestations in your edibles and ornamentals. Remove dead fruits and practice crop rotation to further prevent pest issues.
Strive for an ecological landscape, and use the least-toxic pest control method first. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and try manually removing pest issues before resorting to pesticides. Use products labeled for vegetable gardening and edibles, and be sure all professional lawn care services do the same. If you employ professional landscaping services regularly it is a good idea to point out your edibles. Landscapers may otherwise mistake them for weeds or apply unwanted chemicals.
If foodscaping intrigues you, we recommend Brie Arthur's book, "The Foodscape Revolution." It's filled with tips and tutorials from a gardener who has tried it all. The book also contains hundreds of pictures of Brie's impressive edible landscape and plenty of strategies for preserving and preparing your harvest.
As you explore foodscaping, contact your local county extension office with your plant, pest, and other landscaping questions.
Some visually appealing edibles to start with in your foodscape: