design-inspired urban farming

Edible Landscapes – Integrating Food Plants as Design Features

Photo Credit: Rosalind Creasy ©2009

Edible landscaping has had a long and rich history in both the US and across Western Europe.  However, integrating edibles into front and backyards has had some recent groundswell.  More and more, vegetable boxes are cropping up in yards across the nation.  It’s finally cool to grow your own vegetables.  However, the difference between garden boxes and edible landscapes is that when creating a landscape, you are generally designing a space using plants for aesthetic value.  And edibles integrated into an ornamental landscape not only adds beauty, but also consumption value. Garden boxes and row crops are definitely a component of organic gardening and urban farming, but is not considered edible landscaping because of its functional purpose vs. aesthetic purpose.

Photo credit: Seed To Feed Me (Blogspot)

In addition to the aesthetic and consumption value of edible landscaping, there is also financial value.  Did you know in many cities in the US, you can contact your water agency to adjust your water allowance for edibles, bringing down the cost of your water bill each month?  Many people don’t realize that most municipalities calculate your water allowance based on how much water you should be using based on the size and square footage of your property, how many occupants live on your property and the type of landscape you have.  Edibles can increase your allowance and bring costs down.  Generally, edible landscapes and garden boxes do require more water than other types of landscapes.  However, this is offset by the fact that you are growing plants that you plan to consume!

Photo Credit: Norman Winter/ MSU Extension Service

Benefits of edible landscapes include food security, reduced reliance on fossil fuel supported calories, decreased food miles, increased variety of foods, an improved lifestyle and healthy food choices.  In general, edible landscaping promotes sustainable gardening practices such as mulching and composting, saving energy, maximizing water use efficiency, improved plant diversity, support for pollinating insects and a decreased reliance on chemical herbicides and insecticides. Edible landscapes also provide more diverse and complex plantings than do individual vegetable, fruit or ornamental gardens. This eliminates crop monocultures more prone to pest outbreaks and can increase habitats for desirable organisms such as beneficial insects.

There are many considerations when deciding to create an edible landscape – including planning, choosing plants that will best adapt to your site as well as aesthetic value and maintenance.  It can be difficult and confusing when choosing which food plants that have the right balance of ornamental value and we’ll cover some of that in the coming months. It’s also important to consider hydrozoning or integrating edibles near other plants that have similar water needs.  This will create a more efficient use of water resources throughout your landscape and improves plant growth and productivity.

This can also be accomplished through intercropping or companion planting, whereby plants from the same vegetable families are planted together. Click on the link below for an easy reference chart that categorizes many varieties of vegetable families and the vegetables within each family.

Vegetable Family Table

In the US, there is a significant movement towards growing your own fruits and vegetables.  Support from icons such as Michelle Obama, Michael Pollan and Alice Waters who have become advocates of local food and gardening. And while the movement feels very new, pioneers such as Rosalind Creasy have been promoting edible landscaping since 1970!

Building garden boxes are a great and easy way to get started planting edibles in your urban farm, but it’s not the only option.  Inserting edibles and integrating them as ornamental additions to your existing landscape can be a quick (and gorgeous) way to start growing your own vegetables for you and your family.

In the coming months we’ll be dedicating a number of posts to edible landscaping covering specific topics  such as companion planting, irrigation, soil management, and planning to name a few.  We hope you’ll come back and tell us about what you’re planting and how you’ve incorporated edibles into your landscape!

Sow, what do you think?

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This entry was posted on November 6, 2012 by in Edible Landscaping, Organic Gardening, Urban Farming and tagged , , .
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