You want to grow more things to eat, but hate the look of straight, boring vegetable rows.
You think your garden is too small to grow vegetables, or you’re already gardened to the max.
You’re starting a new garden and want to make something that’s both beautiful to look at and to eat from.
You’re totally brave and want to rip out your entire front lawn and remake it into a productive and beautiful potager –- a creative blend of vegetable, fruits, flowers and herbs.
It’s time for all of you to think about edible landscaping -- the art of growing the things you want to eat in more attractive ways.
To start, browse some of the amazing books and website out there for insights and inspiration. I have two favorites.
The queen of edible landscaping, Rosalind Creasy, has a new book, ‘Edible Landscaping,’ which shows over 300 color photographs of edible ideas that will have your mouth watering and fingers itching to get food among your flowers. I also love Joy Larkcom’s ‘Creative Vegetable Gardening’ for the way she approaches fruit, vegetables and herbs from a design point of view.
You might already have some edibles incorporated into your garden -- did you know that you could eat daylilies? And that rose petals can be used in salads? Most of us have a lavender or two or 30 already in the garden, so why not add in some other decorative plants that can also garnish the table?
Try using chives as an edging, they work wonderfully next to roses and mixed with geranium Rozanne -- snip off the flowers and leaves as need. There’s a newish, variegated basil out there, called ‘Pesto Perpetuo' which tastes wonderful and looks incredible in the middle section of a perennial border. I’m going to tuck it into all my beds next year, for a little hint of hot green and white to help pop other colors. Perhaps you’d rather use purple basil as an accent? It works just as well and looks amazing next to white phlox and blue balloon flowers.
With their pretty spring flowers and bright fall foliage high bush blueberries can be a screen, part of a shrub border or, if allowed to get large enough, become beautiful vase shaped garden sculptures. Plus they’re a native plant so they count for revegetation! Although some produce fruit all on their own, most need at least one other variety to get the best crops and so make sure you buy a couple different names.
You can also work any of the sages into your sunny flowerbeds. I use the classic ‘Berggarten’ as its velvety soft, silver leaves balance the oranges and hot pink flowers I have a thing for. I also plant pineapple sage every year (it’s not a perennial like the cooking sage) to attract hummingbirds and to use in fruit salad. It gets huge, but is open and airy so I plant it with bee balm towards the back of gardens.
Just the slight distance between Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton makes all the difference for winter hardiness, and a fig tree that overwinters for my father on Palmer Terrace needs a huge amount of protection for me. For him, and you in Sag Harbor, a fig with its dramatic leaves can be a startling accent plant. If it’s sited right, it can become huge, but it’s easily pruned and once you’ve eaten your own figs you’ll be an addict for life.
Try growing garlic in between your roses. Not only will it help keep away the aphids and look smashing when in flower, but if you save some of the bulbs you harvest to replant in the fall, you’ll have garlic forever. Tuck bronze fennel into the back of your border and snip pieces of the soft foliage for potato salad or with fish. I like the way it looks with daylilies and Nepeta subsessilis, the larger catmint.
Last year I dug in some currants and gooseberries. Although we don’t use their fruits as much as the Europeans do, I find the plants attractive, especially in spring when they are flowering. I used mine to make a mixed shrub border behind which I’m growing some climbing roses for later seasonal color.
Push nasturtiums seeds everywhere you need to fill gaps. I’m planting mine next to all my oriental poppies. I love the flowers in salads, and as we know, I’m an orange freak, but they come in a whole slew of other colors now.
Lets banish the idea of rows of greens and lines of corn and open our minds up to the idea that things that are edible being used in ways that are beautiful. Let’s use corn to screen out the neighbors’ pool and choose to plant Swiss chard and kale because they look pretty, not just because they’re nutritious.
Joy Larkcom recommends using loose-headed lettuces as edgings, knowing that by the time the heat of summer is upon us; neighboring plants will have filled in the spots where the lettuce once was. She also plants Bull’s Blood Beets as accent plants with their deep red leaves. I would interplant them with curly or large leaf parsley that could fill in the spaces that appear when the beets are pulled. This year I’m tucking eggplants into my flowerbeds. They have beautiful soft velvety leaves and I’m borrowing Rosalind’s idea of using them with pink Echinaceas. She also suggests planting them in pots with million bells as under plantings which I think is just genius.
I’m also going to try growing my lemon cucumbers up the same fence with my climbing roses and morning glories. I was truly inspired by the pumpkin that last year climbed to the top of the huge hedge opposite the Sagg Store.
Going to pick up my mail I pulled in and almost forgot to put the car in park as I stared at a glorious orange orb dangling 10 feet up in the air. I knew that squash, pumpkins, watermelons and cucumbers could all climb but I was stuck thinking of them as ground huggers. I’m still going to try and grow melons as groundcovers this year, but seeing that huge pumpkin vine threaded through the hedge changed my view of sprawlers into crawlers. And that’s the whole key to edible landscaping.
It’s about changing the way you look at about plants and rethinking the way you use them in the garden. Realizing that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between utility and beauty. That a fruiting Asian pear is just as pretty as a crabapple. That pole beans climb pergolas as beautifully as wisteria. That purple pak choi is as pretty as sedum and dill is as elegant as Queen Ann’s Lace but both taste better. That lettuce, alpine strawberries and zucchini can also be thought of as part shade plants. That hot peppers look great in containers, strawberries are great garden edgers and that some of cherry tomatoes get so tall they should be used to dress up an arbor.
And that the only edible plants that don’t belong in your garden -- are the ones you don’t want to eat.
Paige Patterson wants 5 truckloads of Sweet Peet to magically appear in her yard & for elves to start spreading it on all her garden beds.