In the beginning…
there were simply beautiful plants. Then, when it was discovered that some were good to eat–their fruit, foliage, roots or flowers providing the calories and nutrition required to assure mankind’s survival–it made sense to grow them in a special protected area to guarantee an adequate, convenient supply.
Ever since, with a few exceptions, food gardens have been distinct from the natural landscape. Often in today’s deliberately landscaped yards, edible plants are still relegated to the wings, the center stage being reserved for decorative plants. Until relatively recently space seemed unlimited, so combining practical and ornamental plants seemed unnecessary. Thus, food gardens followed the agricultural model, designed to be easy to tend and to harvest. These utilitarian gardens were kept out of sight in the backyard, deferring to the ornamental plants that were on view from the street.
Today, it’s Foodscaping …
where edibles and ornamentals are brought together to celebrate their beauty and edible value! Gardeners have a new appreciation for foliage, fruit, seedpods, habit, and bark. They recognize that many food plants have ornamental features. What can be lovelier than a lush red unique okra plant with decorative leaves and a creamy yellow hibiscus-like bloom? Second, space for both edible and decorative plants is at a premium now that residential yards are shrinking. Since 1980 the typical backyard food garden has shrunk from about 800 square feet to about 200 square feet. Foodscaping is where the future of gardening will be found.
Gardening in containers has also become popular, so blending both types of plants in even more confined spaces such as windowsills, porches, and balconies can produce food as well as flowers. Third, we have rediscovered herbs, especially culinary ones. Both beautiful and flavorful, they are at home in both the veggie patch and the ornamental bed. They are leading the way to integrate the two worlds into Foodscaping as we discover how to edge a flower bed with neat clumps of basil.
It is but a small step to incorporate the smooth, globe-shaped bulbs of Kohlrabi Konan or Fennel Antares with its many uses including an edible bulb; ornamental fronds; a seed producer; and as a favorite food of pollinators, namely swallowtail caterpillars into a bed of traditional decorative annuals. Lastly, there are the new, gorgeous varieties of food plants. They beg to be on display, destroying the rigid distinctions between edible and ornamental. Bright Lights Swiss Chard stems are so beautiful they grace calendars and magazine front covers. The tiny colorful fruits and rich purple foliage of some pepper cultivars are the subjects of fine art. New dwarf forms of food plants make it easier to grow them in containers among the geraniums and petunias. Foodscaping in containers brings the best of both worlds together!
Extending Foodscaping Gardening
Take advantage of the colors of mixed lettuces, purple basil, red okra, red, yellow and orange peppers; yellow, orange, and green tomatoes; purple eggplants; speckled watermelons and savoy cabbage. Celebrate the shapes of pear tomatoes, skinny eggplants, marble-sized tomatoes, and yard long green beans. Foodscaping makes more efficient use of available space and light and increases the number of different crops you can grow. It also maximizes production by extending the space for food crops. It eliminates the struggle to decide which gets the best sun in the yard, the roses or the peppers. Put them both in the sunny spot, even if it is the front yard. If the best sun is over the porch, plant tomatoes or strawberries with flowers in hanging baskets off the porch roof.
Plant a patio type tomato in a container surrounded with French marigolds on the balcony. Prune the tomato’s lower branches to make room for the marigolds to branch out. Other combos might be eggplants with petunias, peppers plus red salvia, salad bush cucumber, and calendulas. Plant squash or sweet potato vine in a window or railing box and let it trail over the edge. Then fill in the box with a more upright annual such as geraniums. Combining families of edible and ornamental types of plants improves their health and the overall environment. As the diversity of plantings in all parts of the yard increases so does the diversity of beneficial insects, the first line of defense against pest insects. Blending more species in various ways rotates your food crops more effectively in new, smaller yards. Foodscaping gardens are beautiful, bountiful, and enhance the environment.