Creating an Edible Landscape in Michigan
February 20, 2012 3 Comments
Edible landscaping, although considered a modern trend, has been around a long time and is arguably one of the oldest forms of landscaping. Like many fashion trends, it has come back around and has been steadily increasing in popularity.
What is edible landscaping exactly? It’s pretty much what it sounds like. Using plants that can be eaten to landscape an area. Here in south-east Michigan there is an abundance of plant options available and my goal is to introduce you to some of them and to provide you with some food for thought(pun intended).
Edible landscaping presents some very unique challenges. If you just put a bunch of garden plants in your flower beds then you will end up with a funky, unorganized mess that looks like weeds. Many garden plants are left in the garden because they have been bio-engineered to grow fruit and don’t offer as much aesthetic value as the plants that have been bio-engineered to look pretty. The beautiful thing about edible landscaping today is that more and more garden plants are being bio-engineered to be tasty and pretty.
There are really 3 main steps to creating your new edible landscape.
Step 1: Write down all the edible plants you like to eat.
I took a few minutes to write down a list of all the garden plants I would like to get at my house. We love fruit at the McClure house and fruit varieties dominated the list. My list included numerous fruit trees such as apples, plums, peaches, apricots, mulberries, and pears. It also had lots of shrubs like, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. The other plants on the list were grapes, corn, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins, and my favorite, strawberries.
After making it through that main list I realized I forgot to add some herbs and probably needed more vegetables. So back to the list; oregano, basil, lavender, sage, some mints, cilantro, potatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
Step 2: Evaluate where you want to landscape.
For me, I plan on redesigning the front entry of my country ranch so I’ll use that as a sample. I have to redo the front porch and create a walkway to the existing gravel drive. The house has a big shade tree straight out the front door and the beds will face south. People, including small children, will frequent this area and I can easily water plants here.
After looking at the area I knew I needed plants that enjoyed sun up near the house and inside the walkway. They could need more water but they had to be controllable by pruning or be naturally contained. So I cut the list I had down to plants I thought would fit the situation. Blueberries, strawberries, oregano, lavender, and a dwarf or espalier fruit tree seemed like good choices.
I wanted to avoid plans that would run, like many herbs and vines. I didn’t want the thorns from raspberries or blackberries (although there are thorn-less versions available)to be reached by children, and I needed plants that would flower and look nice in the front of the house. I have my plants picked up and know where I want to put them so on to the third step.
Step 3: Arranging the plants. The sample below shows how I decided to arrange the plants for my sample sight. The taller blueberry shrubs towards the back, lavender and carpet roses next (I had extra room and wanted plenty of color, the railing and boulders should keep the roses away from kids fingers, plus the rose hips could come in handy!), then a small rock wall drops down to strawberry and oregano. An ornamental looking apple espalier is a great specimen plant and leads you right into the walkway.
The end result is a simple, colorful, unique entry that you can browse on your way in. All the plants are low maintenance, well suited to the environment, and offer plenty of color.
I used the rock wall to create some elevation but also to contain the strawberry ground cover, roses, and slow spreading oregano. We’ve added some fragrance, some color, some herbs for the kitchen, and some fresh fruit to pick. Not a bad design if I do say so myself.
This design is a more formal way to landscape with edible plants that is well suited for a front yard or entryway. The plants were chosen as much for their looks as they were their food production. The entry was colorful, inviting, and let guests know a bit about the owner(I won’t go into detail since it’s a sample of my house and that would be awkward. It says good things though, trust me.). If you are just wanting to put a small garden in the side yard or in the back yard somewhere then you can go less formal and make a simple landscape bed.
For example, try planting a flower bed with some more traditional garden plants like corn, squash, and cucumbers while adding a slight formal touch with a cherry tree, some blueberry shrubs, and some clumping herbs. I always tell people, perennials are weeds planted with a purpose. Even plants that don’t seem like they belong in a landscape bed can look nice if used in the right way.
The design below is a garden disguised as a flower bed. The cantaloupe, cucumber, and squash vines act as ground cover. The corn is planted in tight clumps to provide some vertical interest. Beans or peas can be planted to grow up a pole or on a small tomato trellis for added vertical appeal, texture, and/or color (think of a purple pod pea or sweet pea vines). Peppers can be a nice medium size plant that add some yellow, orange, or red to the bed as well.
The large cherry tree anchors the bed and puts the rest of it in scale. The blueberry shrubs provide a backdrop and help to smooth the transition to the larger cherry tree. The herb under plantings fill the space under the tree and provide fragrance and you can crush some leaves when working in the garden to help deter mosquitoes.
Now we have a combination flower bed and garden that’s pleasing to the eyes, nose, and mouth.
You are only limited by your creativity when it comes to landscaping and gardening. The two are so similar to each other that combining them makes perfect sense sometimes.
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