My yard suffers from seventh-grade-dance syndrome. You know the drill: boys and girls awkwardly eyeing each other from across a school gym as a deejay plays the Black Eyed Peas’ hit du jour. Substitute veggies and ornamental plants, neatly isolated in their own beds, for the tweens and you get the picture.
Daylilies rubbing elbows with green pole beans? Not on my watch! Yellow squash canoodling with nasturtiums on a trellis? The very thought! But as I learned from nationally known garden gurus Rosalind Creasy and Charlie Nardozzi, veggies and ornamentals go together like Angelina and Brad. This flagrant act of garden “friending” even has a name: edible landscaping.
Charlie, an edible-landscaping expert with the National Gardening Association, and Rosalind, author of Edible Landscaping, point out that eating locally grown food reduces the transportation-chain carbon footprint. In other words, it takes less energy to get food to your table. Eating local saves you money, too, because homegrown produce is cheaper. And as any good grandmother will tell you, it tastes better and is more nutritious.
“You save money and resources. For example, you can get 230 individual servings of salad from 18 heads of lettuce,” Rosalind explains. “I can get $700 worth of produce annually out of 100 square feet of garden.
“If we’d all replace 100 square feet of lawn with edible landscaping, the world would be an infinitely better place on a hundred different levels. And if a million people did it, it could produce astounding amounts of food.”
Backyard produce can transform picky eaters, too. “When kids eat a bean they’ve grown, fresh out of the garden, they’re amazed at how good it tastes,” Charlie says. I know this to be true because my son, Johnny, age 7, eats climbing beans off the vine as if they’re Skittles.
Dig right in
So what about that nice established landscape you’ve created—probably at considerable expense? Not to worry. There’s no need for a scorched-earth makeover.
“You can integrate beautiful vegetables and herbs into existing beds without breaking the bank, or your back,” Charlie says. “Every year when you design a bed, consider putting in things like kale and Swiss chard, which has beautiful multicolored leaves.” One option: Bright Lights, an especially colorful chard variety.
Charlie also suggests removing shrubs that have grown too big or too close together—or that are generally ill-suited to their location—and replacing them with something you can harvest, he says.
For example, Rosalind says, you could replace a dwarf burning bush with a low-maintenance blueberry bush, which produces pretty white flowers in spring, burgundy foliage in fall, and berries that will wow your taste buds.
Tastes great, looks great
Contrary to popular belief, an edible yard needn’t be a visual buzz kill, either, Charlie says. He travels all over the country to speak about edible landscaping, and says people never cease to be amazed by the examples of beautiful gardens he includes in his slide show.
“You just have to put on your ornamental glasses,” he advises, and look at edible plants as just more shrubs, trees or flowers. “Summer squash and zucchini are good examples. They look more like tropical plants when integrated into a landscape.”
Rosalind adds: “You can use edible ornamentals in any style of landscaping anywhere in the world. Plus, there’s an intangible that people don’t factor in: quality of life. I pick fresh blackberries in the morning and put them on my cereal. I give my friends tomatoes and basil. It expands our humanity and enriches our lives, and the lives of others.”
And broadens your plants’ social network to boot.