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Published July 04, 2009, 12:00 AM

Eat your yard

More people turn to ‘edible landscapes’
Not so long ago, segregation ruled in our backyards. Tomatoes, carrots and other veggies stayed strictly in one area while flowers were strictly confined to another.

By: Tammy Swift, INFORUM

Not so long ago, segregation ruled in our backyards. Tomatoes, carrots and other veggies stayed strictly in one area while flowers were strictly confined to another.

And never the twain should meet.

Until now.

These days, more and more people have blurred the line between vegetable plots and flower gardens.

In a so-old-it’s-new-again concept known as “edible landscaping,” gardeners are happily planting chives next to their petunias, or intermingling rainbow kale with the day lilies.

Numerous books and Web sites are devoted to the topic, trumpeting taglines such as “Eat your yard.”

Todd Weinmann, a Cass County Extension horticulturist, has incorporated edible landscaping principles into his own south Fargo yard.

Edible ground covers such as ginger mint and tri-color sage meld perfectly with the coleus in front of his house. Horseradish, lemony sorrel, chocolate mint, rosemary and a deep-purple basil plant share the same beds as moss roses and day lilies.

A former sandbox in the backyard has been converted into a raspberry and strawberry patch, with garlic planted in each corner. In another plot, shallots provide natural weed control between the plantings of Imperial artichokes. The posts surrounding this plot also act as perfect climbing support for grape vines. And outdoor planters seamlessly mix dianthus with peppers.

Weinmann attributes the dissolving borders between style and substance to several factors. “Gardening went to the wayside for a while, but it’s coming back,” he says. “People want their gardens to be beautiful, but also useable. Part of it is economics. Food prices have gone up. So, in order to have a little edge, they’ll put peppers in with the flower bed.”

He points out how the cost of one pint of hybrid cherry tomatoes can cost as much as $3.50, whereas the price of one cherry tomato plant, anywhere rom $1 to $2.50, can produce three standard ice-cream buckets of fruit in a season.

Edible landscaping is also a great space-saver, especially for smaller city yards. “Not everyone has a lot of room,” Weinmann says.

British roots

Although the concept seems novel to many of us, it’s actually been around for centuries. Ancient Persian gardens combined both edible and ornamental gardens. Nineteenth-century English gardens, which took their inspiration from English estates, routinely included edible fruits and berries among the roses and lobelia.

“The edible components of residential landscapes were largely lost in the country to the now-familiar shade trees, lawns and foundation plantings,” write horticulturists Travis Beck and Martin F. Quigley in an Ohio State University Extension fact sheet. “In the past decades, however, there has been a revival of interest.”

Much of that revival has been attributed to horticulturist Rosalind Creasy, who actually coined the term, “edible landscapes.”

The key to success is to keep the veggies well-tended, Creasy says. “I’ve said it for years,” she writes on her Web site,

“It’s not the plant, it’s how you use it in your landscape and how well you grow it that makes a garden beautiful. When you plant peppers and don’t prepare the soil with lots of good compost and manure, the yellow spindly plants aren’t suitable for the front garden.”

But a carefully weeded, artfully arranged vegetable garden can provide the perfect counterpoint to traditional flowers, Creasy says. Glossy peppers, lipstick-red tomatoes and flowering chives can all infuse a plain, old petunia patch with unexpected textures and visual charm.

Moorhead resident Jaclyn Weber is a staunch believer in the beauty of vegetable plants.

“Food is pretty,” she says. “I like a few flowers, but I’d rather grow food.”

She and her two sons, Rafael, 8, and Ezra, 2, routinely graze on the goodies growing in the middle of her yard. Rafael will even nibble on the wild chamomile plants that grow in the driveway.

Traditional landscaping plants are intermingled with blueberry bushes, rhubarb, raspberries and all kinds of herbs. A portion of her backyard has been plowed up for tomato plants – much as some people would plan a plot for a separate rose garden.

Weber gardens not only because she likes it, but because she believes in the health benefits of local foods. “I like to come out and pick my dinner,” she says.

“It’s better for the Earth, it’s better for the kids and it’s better for the economy – well, my economy,” she says, laughing. “I don’t want to eat something that’s been sitting on a truck for three months.”

Easy ways to add edibles to landscapes

  • Plant Swiss or rainbow chard. It’s as attractive as it is tasty. The greens can be prepared like spinach; the stalks like asparagus.

  • Put pots of herbs on the patio.

  • Grow Red Jewel cabbage next to your flowering annuals and perennials.

  • Plant colorful pepper varieties (Lipstick, Habanero) alongside flowers.

  • Tuck lettuce, radishes or other short-lived greens into a flower bed.

  • Put basil together with coleus in a planter.

  • Grow chives around your mailbox.

  • Include cherry tomatoes in a window box or hanging basket.

  • Grow okra. It has, arguably, the most beautiful flower of any vegetable plant. The green pods can be braised, baked or fried.

  • Build a grape arbor.

  • Eat your day lilies. (Just make sure they haven’t been sprayed.)

  • Grow edible flowers such as nasturtium, violas, borage or calendula, and include in salads.

  • Plant a fruit tree in the corner of your yard.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525