A typical vegetable garden is usually a scraggily mess. The tomato plant has fallen over, the harvested lettuce has left a vacant hole in the soil and the cucumber vine has taken over most of the plant bed. There is a reason that most the vegetable gardens are placed out of sight.
However, there is a new trend to integrate vegetable and fruit plants into one’s landscape instead of dedicating a single area for them. This is called “Edible Landscaping.” The question is how can one sprinkle a lettuce or a tomato plant next to a hedge? It’s easy when one follows a few tips.
First, let’s look at how and why there has been an increase in growing one’s own food. A quick Google search lends to multiple companies in San Diego that specialize in Edibles alone. Some will design and plant them and even come harvest for you. More people are growing their own produce for many reasons. It tastes great. You have control over pesticides and herbicides. You are reducing your impact on the environment as there is less gas used to get you your fresh salad. It’s a great opportunity to teach your kids about gardening and the rewards of a little elbow grease. Finally, there is a tremendous reward in eating something that you helped create.
Herbs are an easy candidate for scattering into your yard. They rely on their foliage for their looks, so there is no reliance on flowers or fruits. Rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano grow well in San Diego and can be integrated into any perennial border. With the exception of rosemary which can grow to 3 feet or more, the herbs are small and should be planted next to a walkway or somewhere where they can be accessed easily. If you are cooking and need a sprig of basil, you want to be able to step outside quickly to break off a bunch of basil or other herb. Other veggies that work well in the landscape are green leaf veggies like lettuce, spinach, kale, and swiss chard. If you don’t end up harvesting the leaves and instead let these go to flower, they can create a beautiful display. Artichokes also have an amazing flower if you don’t harvest the flower bud.
In terms of design, I recommend that there be a strong design framework off which the herbs or leafy veggies can play on. That is, maybe there is an evergreen hedge next to the green leafy veggies. When the lettuce is harvested and messy, at least the hedge behind it will help visually organize the space. This design concept can help organize any garden, but is particularly useful when parts of the garden are changing in appearance frequently.
Fruit trees are another great way to integrate edibles into your yard. There’s no need to create a dedicated orchard for your fruit trees. Rather, they can pull double duty as shade-producers and fruit-bearers. Popular fruit trees for this area are citrus, pomegranate, fig, stone fruit (peach, plum, and apricot), kumquat, and apple (low-chill varieties).
If space is tight in your yard, you can plant vertically with vines. Grapes grow well with some support like a trellis. You can also try espaliered trees where a small tree is trained to grow along a fence or wall in a flat plane. Some nurseries sell fruit trees that are already growing on in this manner.
Some other practical notes are that edibles usually require moderate maintenance so you will need to make sure that the plants can be easily accessed. Place the plants near a walkway or near a foot path so that you can tend to them often. Edibles need regular water; more than your typical low-water Mediterranean plants. You may need to supplement their water regimen with some hand watering. The edibles will also typically require full sun and well-drained soil.
Expect a quick turn-around for your edible plants. Most veggies grow from seed or sprig to mature plant with harvest in one or two seasons (for instance, Spring to Summer, or Summer to Fall). After you harvest, you may need to replace the plant all together. This is different than perennials where you may plant in year one and not replace them for several years. Fruit trees usually take 3-5 years to reach maturity with harvesting its maximum yield.
Edible landscaping can be a great idea for homeowners who want to experiment with fruit and vegetable planting but don’t want to create a raised garden bed. It’s easy to find a patch of soil in the yard where you can try a tomato plant or a fence where a grape vine could grow. Give it a try and you may be turned onto the joys of growing, harvesting, and eating your own food. Enjoy.