By Carol Cowan
Eat your yard? Well, we’re not talking about learning to like the taste of grass. Edible landscaping, an increasingly popular gardening trend, brings herbs, berries, fruit trees and vegetables out of dedicated garden beds and beyond the backyard for their beauty as well as their bounty. The idea is to mix and mingle plantings that include edibles in every space available to achieve an aesthetically pleasing landscape design that will also feed a family.
As part of the landscaping in her own front yard, Dr. Sue Hamilton, director of the University of Tennessee Gardens, grows blueberries, elderberries, oxblood beets, edible ornamental peppers, tomatoes, giant mustard greens, a columnar apple tree, and lots of herbs and edible flowers.
“People are just shocked when they realize I’ve got beets right on the curb,” she says. “But they are just spectacular because the foliage is a burgundy red. I’ve got a stone stairway that goes from the curb up to my front door, along which I’ve planted thyme and lavender and rosemary and chives all mixed in with flowering plants. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
“Edibles are beautifuls,” according to Paul Baxter and Glenda Ross, passionate advocates and owners of Greenbriar Farm & Nursery for Edible Landscaping in Norris. You won’t find a blade of grass anywhere in their landscaping. “Eat your yard” is their motto and the name of the website where they share numerous resources for implementing edible landscaping.
They began with blueberries, because Baxter owns one of the oldest blueberry farms in Tennessee. “A blueberry bush makes a beautiful shrub,” Baxter says, “and you get blueberries from it.”
Hamilton agrees. “Blueberries are really beautiful ornamental shrubs,” she says. “The foliage turns burgundy and scarlet red. In the spring and fall the stems turn a hot pink color. They’re pretty when they’re in bloom; they’re pretty when they have fruit on them. The icing on the cake is that they produce blueberries.”
The list of beautiful edibles is practically endless, and there are countless advantages of incorporating them into your overall landscape design.
One is the efficient use of space. As part of their mission at Greenbriar Nursery, Ross says, “We like to come up with an edible alternative for any kind of landscaping need anybody has, whether that’s for ground cover or a shrub, whether it’s a tree or a vine – there is some kind of edible plant that will fill that need. You can plant them in the front yard, the side yard, in containers on the patio, on the roof, in window boxes. The idea is to make the space of a normal homeowner’s yard more productive and more environmentally friendly by making use of that space to produce food rather than to produce grass.”
And let’s face it, mowing grass is a repetitive, solitary activity. Another advantage of edible landscaping means less time spent mowing and more time with the whole family learning to care for the land. Baxter loves getting his grandkids involved.
“We just walk around our house and forage every time they visit,” he says.
Additionally, diverse plantings promote disease and insect resistance. “I’ve got three blueberry bushes in my front yard – all in different areas,” Hamilton says. “If I get an insect or disease on one, the chances of it getting to another is pretty slim, because of the diversity.”
Finally, a bountiful landscape full of edibles can cut your food bill. It will also feed bees, helping to support these crucial – and disappearing – pollinators.
“So many of the flowering trees used in traditional landscaping have been hybridized not to produce fruit, so they produce no pollen for bees and no seeds for birds,” says Nancy Knox, edible landscaping advocate and proprietor of Nancy’s Peachtree Bee Sanctuary in Nashville.
“Why not grow a variety that produces food? It just makes sense.”
Ready to get started? Here are 7 tips on incorporating edibles into your home landscape.