April 23, 2016
Many of us grew up with the notion the public areas in the front and back yards of our gardens were reserved for ornamental landscapes.
We may have had fruit trees with our beautiful flowers and manicured lawns, but the bulk of any food gardens were relegated to the back of the yard where we could easily access the fruits, vegetables and herbs from the back door and no one would see the working garden in production.
Fast forward to today and the paradigm is changing. Many of us are gardening in much more limited space and often less formally. Large, pristine lawn areas are becoming a rarity out of necessity. We have seen the advantages of growing our own food, but we want to sit among and pick fresh flowers, too. We certainly want our gardens to be beautiful, but we also want them to be useful. Edible and ornamental combination landscaping is a happy mixture of beauty with the utility of food production.
Edible landscaping can integrate food plants within a more ornamental or decorative setting. This can happen in a large yard, on a modest suburban lot or on a patio, deck or balcony. Like any garden design, combination edible and ornamental landscapes require some planning and maybe some trial and error. I have found that it is a gradual process at my house, but it has been fun trying. The principles of garden design remain the same as you integrate edibles into your ornamental landscape and vice versa, but there are some added essential considerations.
Keeping your plants healthy is especially important when you are going to eat some of what you are growing. This starts, as always, with the soil. Most edible plants require soils that drain quickly and are filled with lots of organic matter. If you are gardening in pots the same principles apply, but more attention may be needed to assure the nutrient levels in the soil. No systemic pesticides allowed. Pesticides do not differentiate between plants and you do not want them in your food.
Proper plant selection and care goes a long way to controlling pests. For leafy greens, strive to avoid all pesticides. If you must use pesticides on fruiting plants, apply before the plant begins bearing, and use the least toxic substances. Good garden hygiene is especially important wherever food is growing and can go a long way in maintaining the health of your garden.
Determine which food plants you love to eat that will be grown in your Marin microclimate. Most edible plants require at least six to eight hours a day of good strong sun to produce well and maintain healthy vigor. As you integrate them into your landscape design, match the cultural requirements of the edibles with those of the ornamentals so they will all get the sun (or shade protection) and water they need.
To help your edible and ornamental landscape look its best all year long, intersperse plants that provide the color and structure that pleases you. Remember that you will be harvesting the edibles so making them readily accessible is important. The harvest may leave a bare spot for a while so have a rotation plan in mind. Consider adding to the fun in your garden by growing your tomatoes or peppers where their changing colors can be admired.
Instead of a vine, consider planting your pole beans on a trellis. Consider a variety of greens where they can get some shade protection from a taller ornamental.
The challenge for many of us is breaking with longheld traditions. But, if you take a bit of time to think about the infinite possibilities available to you, edibles can be a fun introduction into your landscape or potscape. Grow what you like and make it fun.
The UC Marin Master Gardeners are providing a free class to help encourage you on this new adventure. “Designing Your Edible Landscape” will be taught by UC Marin Master Gardener Dolores Gebhardt from 11 a.m. to noon April 30 at the Novato Public Library at 1720 Novato Blvd. in Novato.