Also called edible landscaping, the practice of foodscaping offers the best of all worlds for small or minimally sunny properties, or where a traditional vegetable garden would look out of place—say, in a front yard.
Many edibles look as good as they taste—think kale, Swiss chard, bronze fennel, and peppers. And annual vegetables aren’t the only ones to win the beauty contest: Perennials like asparagus and fruits like blueberries, pears, and rhubarb offer beauty and flavor. Bonus: This diversity attracts pollinators and nurtures wildlife.
“Given a choice between an edible ornamental and a non-edible ornamental, I design for the edible,” says Patty Laughlin, owner of Lorax Landscaping in Epping, New Hampshire. “When I introduce clients to the idea of ‘browsing’ their landscape, they get a whole new perspective of what their garden can be.”
A few guidelines: Grow edibles next to ornamental plants with the same cultural needs. As a general rule, most vegetables and fruits need rich, well-drained soil, full sun, and one inch of water per week. Use organic gardening practices, such as adding compost, mulching, and fertilizing with seaweed-based plant food. Don’t use pesticides or herbicides. Transplant seasonally appropriate vegetables into your garden during the gaps between harvests: E.g., plant kale after you’ve plucked the lettuce or Swiss chard.
“When it comes to adding edibles to a landscape, I call blueberries the gateway fruit,” says Laughlin, because the berries are tasty and the plants easy to grow. Highbush blueberries, which grow to 12 feet, are good for hedging. At 2 feet tall, lowbush, or wild, blueberries, add interest to a flowerbed. Plant more than one variety to improve yields. Blueberries need the same acidic soil as rhododendrons and azaleas.
2. ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard
Beta vulgarissubsp. Vulgaris
When you plant Swiss chard in a flowerbed, the veggie’s big, glossy green leaves and brilliant-red, -pink, and -orange stalks give the garden a tropical feel. This plant handles both cool and hot weather, and it likes soil that’s rich and moist. Sweet alyssum and cosmos make colorful companions. Swiss chard grows to 16 inches tall by 8 inches wide.
3. Cherry tomatoes
Lycopersicon esculentum var. cerasiforme
Super-easy, fast-growing cherry tomatoes will keep the garden colorful while producing fruits as fast as you can eat them. There are red, yellow, orange, and “black”—actually deep purple—
varieties, with names like ‘Red Robin,’ ‘Sungold,’ ‘Gold Nugget,’ and ‘Black Cherry.’ Tuck a couple in a border to scramble around black-eyed Susans
This heat-loving perennial herb does best in a warm, dry climate. Its fragrant, needlelike leaves and intense- blue flowers make it
a natural low hedge or border. The cultivar Arp grows upright and can be shaped into a small tree; Prostratus can spill prettily over a wall or serve as groundcover. Rosemary isn’t hardy in Zones 5 and colder, but plants can be brought indoors and overwintered in front of your sunniest window.
5. Scarlet runner beans
Scarlet runner bean is an annual vine, with bright-red blooms that turn into 8-inch-long pods. You can eat the flowers—and the cooked pods when young (before the beans appear)—or you can harvest the dry pods for their pink-purple beans. Train scarlet runner bean on an arbor or trellis. The more you pick, the more flowers you get, which makes hummingbirds and bees happy, too.