How to Design a Delightfully Edible Landscape

“Follow me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”

That’s what Gene Wilder sings in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as he and his lucky guests enter a meadow where everything in sight — from the grass to the river — is made entirely of candy.

And though it may seem far-fetched, the idea of an edible landscape isn’t totally fiction or new. In fact, since as far back as ancient Egypt, people have been growing food crops in visually pleasing arrangements that rival the most picturesque of ornamental gardens.

This approach, now sometimes referred to as “foodscaping,” is a distinct departure from how we traditionally think about growing food in the U.S. — the land of row crops and isolated garden beds. But that’s changing.

In this post, you’ll learn how to convert your flowerbeds into attractive, food-producing plots (and why you should).

Edibles and ornamentals can co-exist in horticultural harmony.

Reap These Fantastic Rewards of Foodscaping

Besides creating an environment that’s as nutritious as it is beautiful, edible landscaping offers the following perks.

Maximize growing space.

Urban gardening is on the rise. But “urban” and “roomy” rarely go hand-in-hand, which means gardeners must be smart about using the space they have.

And a densely planted foodscape — as opposed to independent rows of crops — is the arguably one of the most efficient ways to use your growing area.

Protect your budget.

Though it may take a bit of math to determine the return on investment of a food garden, that of an ornamental one is often pretty obvious: zero. (Unless you’re growing flowers for DIY arrangements — fresh cut flowers can be pricey.)

Why spend your money on burning bushes or African daisies when you could instead grow blueberries and calendula? In addition to providing a similar aesthetic, these plants have a more practical use: food.

Save time (and labor).

As we just covered, densely planted foodscapes allow you to grow more food in less space. But that’s not all. By minimizing bare soil, they also help prevent weeds.

And since foodscapes often contain a vibrant mix of various plant species, pests are less common. (Because interplanting makes it harder for them to find target crops.) Plus, if you incorporate pest-repelling plants throughout your garden, you can keep most bad bugs at bay altogether.

In other words, you’ll likely spend a lot less time maintaining your garden and more time enjoying it. This is particularly true if you go a step further and grow a food forest, which ultimately becomes a self-sustaining ecosystem.

Lavender looks lovely, smells wonderful, and attracts pollinators.

How to Design Your Edible Landscape in 3 Steps

Eager to begin your edible landscaping endeavors? Just follow these steps.

1. Assess your growing space.

As with any type of garden planning, you should first consider the attributes of your growing environment.

  • Light – Do you get abundant sunlight? Fruiting crops and berries will likely grow well. But in the case of shade, herbs and vegetative crops may be best.
  • Space – How big is your growing area? Some plants, such as cucumbers and mint, are enthusiastic expanders that can quickly overtake a small garden.
  • Climate – What’s your weather like? Different plants have varying temperature tolerances. A cold winter may kill a citrus tree, for example, whereas an apple tree won’t be as productive without chilling hours.

Once you determine the qualities of your growing area, do a little research to figure out which plants it will accommodate. (These growing guides may be a helpful place to start.)

And keep in mind that if you want your garden to look good throughout all seasons, you should grow perennials, or plants that live for multiple years. You can certainly grow annuals, too. But the more annuals you grow this year, the more you’ll have to replant next year.

Did you know an artichoke could be so beautiful?

2. Decide upon the landscape style you’d like.

Have a list of plants in mind? Great — now it’s time to think about your landscape’s layout.

Good garden design is largely open to interpretation. So, contemplate how you want your garden to look and what you’d like it to make you feel.

Should it be neat and tidy and provide a calming sense of order? Or is whimsical and wild more your pace?

Envisioning your garden ahead of time — and even sketching it out, if you’re so inclined — will help ensure you ultimately achieve the look and vibe you want. It can also prevent you from over- or underplanting.

Passionflowers produce otherworldly blooms and a tasty fruit to boot.

3. Create a balance of form, texture, and color.

Whatever type of garden style you prefer, aim to achieve balance in your design.

Balance doesn’t mean boring, by the way. In fact, the most interesting gardens feature a contrast of plant forms, textures, and colors. The key is to repeat certain motifs or themes to create a sense of organization and rhythm.

For example, colors (and corresponding plants) you could strategically repeat throughout your garden include:

  • Red: Tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, goji berry
  • Purple: Red kale, eggplant, chives, purple basil, lavender, artichokes, passionflower
  • Orange: Nasturtiums, pumpkins
  • Yellow: California poppies, calendula, sunflowers
  • Blue: Borage, blueberries

By default, you’ll probably also have a plethora of green plants. And some crops, such as rainbow chard, can contribute multiple colors.

When selecting plants, remember to consider height and general growing habits. Just as ornamentals come in all shapes and sizes, so do edibles:

  • Trees: Most nuts and fruits, mulberries
  • Shrubs: Berries, woody herbs (e.g., rosemary, lavender), asparagus
  • Groundcover: Strawberries, thyme, oregano, nasturtiums
  • Edging: Garlic, chives
  • Vines: Peas, pole beans, cucumbers, grapes, passionflower
  • Grasses: Rice, wheat, oats, barley

A final trademark of balanced gardens is a focal point.

Your focal point may be a tree, fountain, statue, or Tower Garden — anything of prominence that draws the eye.

(I’ve seen some growers actually plant their Tower Garden reservoir in the soil, essentially making the system a permanent part of the edible landscape. As a bonus, this helps regulate temperature for the plants, too.)

Over to You

Landscape design is a huge topic. (People get degrees in it and write books about it, after all.) So, this post has only skimmed the surface. But I hope it helps you design a landscape that boosts both your curb appeal and your access to fresh, nutritious produce.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about foodscaping? Let’s chat in the comments below.

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