Lush plantings of rainbow chard,
potatoes, herbs, sweet peas, beans, lettuce, rhubarb, berries…. Why hide
them away in the backyard? You can substitute edible plants for some of the
ornamental plantings in your front garden and increase its beauty at the
same time as you provide your family with money-saving and health-enhancing
Or, as author and owner of Ecologia
Design, an edible landscape design company Michael Judd puts it, “Edible
landscaping cross-pollinates a desire for tasty food with nostalgia, greater
food security, and a need to stop mowing so damn much.”
Read on to learn how to incorporate
edibles and ornamentals in your home’s front garden.
Many berry plants are attractive
enough to use as decorative shrubs. That includes blueberry and currant
bushes, grape vines, raspberries, and strawberries. Depending on the habits
of the plant, consider growing them over an arbor, in pots scattered
throughout your garden, or espaliered against a fence or on a trellis.
Smaller plants can be used as borders.
Melons, cucumbers, zucchini, and
pole beans are just four of the vegetables that can be grown up trellises
along the back of a flower border.
Rhubarb plants can be tucked into
the back of a the flower bed and can be underplanted with a low-growing
Lettuce and other salad veggies make
great edging plants, and they come in a variety of colors, from green to
deep reds and purple.
Vegetables for planting in a mixed
garden don’t all have to be predominantly green! Think of brilliant yellow
and red peppers for splashes of color, or Swiss chard, which comes in a
variety of colors. Some peppers are even sold as ornamentals.
Edible flowers like nasturtiums and
violas bridge the edible and ornamental spheres. They are happily at home in
any vegetable garden, and a few petals tossed in with your lettuce makes for
a pretty salad.
Herbs – either on their own or in an
herb spiral (see next page) – are another example of plants that are both
edible and ornamental. Many of them, such as parley and coriander, can be
mixed in with flowers and will blend in well with flowering perennials.
Rosemary is another attractive herb, grows relatively high, and is often
available in cleverly shaped topiary. Or use herbs with colorful foliage –
like purple basil or tricolor sage – in beds, borders, or containers. Then
there are the groundcover herbs like thyme, and the flowering ones like
Believe it or not, tomatoes are an
especially good choice for an ornamental garden. Growing away from other
vegetables, and being moved to a different spot each year, will help
minimize the common diseases and pests that can diminish your yield. (Check
out a companion planting guide for more tips about veggies and flowers that
like to share space; marigolds, for instance, are great companions to many
Kale doesn’t have many pest
problems, so it’s a good choice for a border plant if you choose a
low-growing variety, or as a backdrop. Just leave them enough space to
spread their leaves.
If you have enough space, a row of
corn can be grown as an unconventional yet effective privacy screen/fence.
Fennel is an attractive and hardy
perennial with licorice-flavored seeds and young leaves; one type has a
swollen, bulb-like stem that is used as a vegetable. Fennel is technically
an herb, in the celery family. In a mixed garden, its tall, wispy fronts
will provide visual interest and movement as they sway in the wind.
Author Ivette Soler (The Edible
Front Yard) calls artichoke “the superstar of front yard food.” She notes
that even if you don’t like eating its big flower buds, its “architectural
structure” (it can grow to six feet tall), fuzzy leaves, and huge purple
flowers are highly ornamental. The globe artichoke is actually a variety of
thistle and requires good soil, regular watering and feeding, and winter
frost protection. But it can be a fun plant to try.
If you share your property with
four-legged pests – from squirrels to deer or raccoons – you might also have
to share your hybrid garden. Obviously, a front yard garden can’t be fenced
off or otherwise protected in the ingenious but sometimes not so attractive
ways many of us use to reserve our produce for ourselves! So consider that
when you plant, in addition to issues like climate, shade, and water.
I recommend that, unless you have
lots of money and the advice of a landscape designer, you start small. Tuck
a few veggies in between your flowers, or add some herb plants – perhaps in
pots to keep them from taking over – to the mix. There are some basic
principles to follow, and some good books available (see the list at the end
of this article), but trial and error is probably the best way to go in
order to find what works for your specific situation. This trend seems like
it’s here to stay, and you’re not alone in wanting to grow food in your
Senga Lindsay, a Canadian landscape
architect and author of the 2012 book Edible Landscaping, says that almost
every project she is asked to design includes a request for edible
components — from condominiums with community gardens and fruit trees, to
residential developments with edible walls for fences. Lindsay told a
Vancouver newspaper that people want to multi-task their gardens. Maybe
we’re seeing our gardens through the same busy lens that affects our daily
lives, or perhaps we just enjoy the benefits of stepping out the front door
and picking some food. Whatever the reason, those wonderful vegetable and
fruit plants are now taking their place of honor in our front yards rather
than being banished behind fences.
Edible Landscaping by Rosalind
Creasy (Counterpoint, 2010)
The Complete Books of Edible
Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy (Sierra Club Books, 1982)
Edible Landscaping with a
Permaculture Twist: How to Have Your Yard and Eat It Too by Michael Judd
The Edible Front Yard by Ivette
Soler (Timber Press, 2011)
Edible Landscaping: Urban Food
Gardens That Look Great by Senga Lindsay (Harbour Publishing, 2012)
The Beautiful Edible Garden: Design
a Stylish Outdoor Space Using Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs by Leslie
Bennett, Stefani, Bittner (Ten Speed Press, 2013)
Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your
Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community (Chelsea Green