We can grow edible plants in many ways beyond the traditional row-type vegetable garden. Many food plants are beautiful and work well integrated into the landscape. By combining fruit and nut trees, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers or berry bushes in aesthetically pleasing ways, edible landscapes can be just as attractive as ornamental ones.
In addition to providing flavorful and nutritious produce, growing our own food is a great family activity and builds community. We can grow produce that is unusual or hard to find using the gardening methods we trust.
Consider starting small by replacing traditional ornamental landscape plants with edible version. Here are a few examples.
Plant a fruit tree instead of an ornamental tree or a nut tree instead of a shade tree. A hickory tree makes a great large shade tree, while also providing delicious nuts. Instead of a spring blooming tree such as redbud, consider an apple or cherry that not only have beautiful spring blooms, but later provide delicious fruit.
Small fruiting shrubs are good substitutes for deciduous shrubs like burning bush and forsythia. Current, quince, and berry plants come in many shapes, sizes, and colors to fit most landscapes.
Edible flowers replace ornamental flowers. Sometimes I'll add flowers to a dull looking salad to add color. Or, sometimes I just eat flowers right out in the garden. Examples include nasturtiums, borage, calendula, and chives.
Strawberries and many perennial herbs make great groundcovers. I especially like the many different varieties of thyme that form durable, dense outdoor carpets. Grow food, not lawns by converting some lawn areas into edible groundcovers.
You get the idea. The possibilities are endless. Use a raspberry fruiting shrub as a hedge. Hops, grapes, edible passionflower, cucumbers, or pole beans work well as vines.
Even if you only have a small patio or balcony, you can grow edible plants in containers or raised beds. Smaller varieties of tomato, raspberry, blueberry, and many herbs work well this way. Even a citrus tree houseplant can be moved outside during the summer.
As you integrate edible plants into your landscape, consider the variety. Many fruits, vegetables, and herbs come in dwarf sizes or in unusual colors. Bright lights chard, ornamental peppers, dwarf blueberries, and black lace elderberry are just a few examples.
Want to learn more about how to eat your yard by creating a tasteful home landscape using edible plants? I am speaking on this topic at the Tri-State Local Foods Summit in Quincy on February 20. If you'd like me to speak to your group or organization, go to http://extension.illinois.edu/go/rhondaferree for more information.