Garden design: Foodscaping
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 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 gardens, edible plants are still relegated to the wings, while the centre stage being reserved for ornamental plants.
Until relative recently space seemed unlimited, so combining practical and ornamental plants seemed unnecessary.
So, food gardens followed the agricultural model, designs to be easy to tend and to harvest. These utilitarian gardens were kept out of sight in the backyard; decorative plants were plants that were on view from the street.
Today, it’s Foodscaping …
Where edibles and ornamentals are brought together to celebrate equally their beauty and edible value.
Gardeners have a new appreciation for their 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 the 1980s, the typical backyard food garden has shrunk due to the rise of urbanism. Foodscaping is where the future gardening is trending.
Consider replacing the typical landscape with decorative borders of herbs, rainbow chards and striking chili peppers.
Homeowners with small or large gardens can benefit from a trellis of cherry tomatoes cascading over the entryway, a fragrant border of colorful and flavorful basils, amaranths (shokoyokoto, spinach) or a semi-dwarf pawpaw tree or two.
There are tasty and ornamental edible plants for just about any garden setting in any climate.
Traditionally, the first thing that comes to mind when we decide to grow edible plants is a kitchen garden hidden from public view in the back yard. But there’s another way to do it. More and more gardeners are creating landscape arrangements made up partly or completely of useful and edible plants.
Adding to an existing garden
A lot of them simply add food plants to the layout they already have. It’s easy enough to introduce a few chive or basil into a flowerbed of perennials, or a Swiss chard into some potted annuals.
100 percent edible
Some people take it a step further and create gardens consisting exclusively of useful plants.
In most cases they go for hardy perennial plants so as to have a garden that’s low-maintenance. They opt for fruit and nut trees and shrubs, as well as edible, aromatic and medicinal perennials.
A garden of conventional vegetables can also be incorporated into it, to be more intensely cultivated.
In a garden devoted to edible plants, each component serves multiple purposes. For instance, in addition to its pretty flowers and its fruit, a fruit tree provides shade, feeds pollinators, and serves as a perch for birds.
Each element in the garden must, as far as possible, work in harmony with the others.
The principal of the three sisters, prized by Amerindians, is a good example of a harmonious combination. Grown together, corn, climbing beans and squash each enjoy the beneficial effects of the other two.
The broad foliage of the squash, a natural ground cover, keeps the soil cool and moist; corn stalks serve as stakes for climbing beans; and those beans, like all legumes, enrich the soil with nitrogen, which is in turn beneficial to squash and corn seedlings.
Gardening in containers has become popular, so blending both types of plants in even more confined spaces such as porches, verandah and balconies can produce food as well as flowers.
Third, we have rediscovered herbs, especially culinary herbs that are flavorful, they are at home in both the vegetable patch and the ornamental bed, and potted.
They are leading the way to integrate the two worlds into foodscaping as we discover how to edge a flowerbed with neat clumps of basil.
It is but a small step to incorporate the smooth, globe-shape bulbs of onions or Fennel Antares with its many uses including an edible bulb; ornamental fronds; a seed producer; and as a favourite 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 displayed, destroying the rigid distinction between Edible and ornamental.
Bright light colorful stems of Swiss chard and textured leaves are so beautiful they grace calendars and magazines front covers and the colorful fruits and rich purple foliage of some pepper cultivars is the subject of fine art. New dwarf forms of food plants makes it easier to grow in containers among the geraniums and petunias.
Foodscaping in containers with cultivars specifically bred for containers brings the best of both worlds together.
Food scaping garden design in its most sophisticated form calls for the acquisition of knowledge and some careful planning. But with a little curiosity and perseverance, it’s possible to achieve self-sustaining ecosystems inspired by nature.