Edible Landscaping: Play with your food

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Swiss chard featured in a spring flower planter (Seattle, WA).

Many gardeners keep their ornamentals and edibles segregated: fruits and vegetables go in neat rows or tidy boxes in the backyard and ornamentals are given domain over the front yard landscape.  But what if we blurred the lines a bit?

There are two ways to think about edible landscape plants.  First is to incorporate traditionally edible plants for their landscape qualities.  Some of my favorites are using rhubarb as a foundation foliage planting (deer resistant!), spreading herbs such as oregano or thyme as ground covers, blueberries as flowering shrubs with fall foliage, and the list goes on and on.

 

 

Image result for kousa dogwood
Edible fruits of the Korean dogwood (Cornus kousa) – Wikimedia Commons

The second is to think about the edible qualities of traditionally ornamental plants.  You may not know that a virtual feast is already hiding out in your landscape.  Did you know that almost all of a daylily plant is edible? New shoots can be eaten raw or cooked, as can the flowers.  The starchy rhizomes can also be cooked as a sort of potatoey substitute.  “Elephant Ears” (Colocasia escuelenta) is the same plant that forms the Asian and Hawaiian staple plant taro (used to make poi in Hawaii).  And most dogwood trees produce berries that can make a pretty good jam or jelly.  The dogwood species Cornus mas, or Cornleian Cherry, is especially prized for being edible and Kousa/Korean dogwoods (Cornus kousa) have large, unusual berries that are easy to pick and process.

 

Purple cabbage and kale in a fall mum planting (Windsor, VT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some suggestions for edible plants based on their use in the landscape:

Vines

  • Grape (Vitis sp.)
  • Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia arguta)
  • Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus)
  • Malabar Spinach (Basella alba)
  • Hops (Humulus lupulus)

Groundcovers

  • Thyme (Thymus sp.)
  • Oreganum (Oregano vulgare)
  • American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
  • Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa)
  • Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
  • Wintergreen (Glautheria procumbens)

Perennials

  • Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)
  • Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
  • Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana)
  • Lavender (Lavandula spica)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)

Small Shrubs

  • Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.)
  • Gooseberries/Currants (Ribes sp.)
  • Brambles (Rubra sp.)
  • Elderberry (Sambucus sp.)
  • Hazelnut (Corylus sp.)
  • Quince (Cydonia oblonga)
  • Aronia berry (Aronia sp.)

Large Shrubs or Small Trees

  • Dwarf Apples/Pears (Malus sp. and Pyrus sp.)
  • Stone fruits (various)
  • Cherries (Prunus sp.)
  • Figs (Ficus sp.)
  • Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
  • Dogwoods (Cornus sp.)

Large Trees

  • Standard fruit trees
  • Nut trees
  • Persimmon (Diospyros sp.)
  • Mulberries (Morus sp.)
  • Pine (Pinus sp.)

Annuals/Biennials

  • Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris)
  • Lettuces (Lactuca sativa)
  • Nightshades (Solanaceae)
  • Corn (Zea mays)
  • Kale (Brassica olereca)
  • Alliums (Allium sp.)
  • Squashes (Cucurbita sp.)
  • Celery (Apiens graveolens)
  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo)
  • Pole beans (Phaseolus sp.)

Edible Flowers

  • Bachelor buttons (Centaurea cyanus)
  • Bee Balm (Monarda sp.I
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
  • Chamomile (Maricaria recutita)
  • Chicory (Chicorium intybus)
  • Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum sp.)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis sp.)
  • Dianthus (Dianthus sp.)
  • Marigold (Tagetes sp.)
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeoleum sp.)
  • Pansy (Viola tricolor)
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Rose (Rosa sp.)
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Violet (Viola sp.)

Check out a printable version of this Edible Landscaping plant list

Resources/Further Reading:

  • Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy, Sierra Club/Counterpoint, 2010, 2nd ed.
  • Landscaping with Fruit by Lee Reich, Storey Publishing, 2009
  • Our Edible Landscape by Sam Powers, Texas AgriLife Extension Service
  • Edible Estates by Will Allen, et al., Metropolis Books, 2010, 2nd ed.
  • The Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler, Timber Press, 2011
  • The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasey, Periplus Editions, 1999
  • www.ediblelandscaping.com
  • www.garden.org/ediblelandscaping
  • Your Local Extension Service
John Porter
Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator at Nebraska Extension
John Porter is the Urban Ag Program Coordinator for Nebraska Extension and Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, serving both as an extension educator and professor of urban agriculture. He specializes in urban agriculture and horticulture, especially in the areas of vegetable and fruit production for home gardens and urban farms and edible landscaping.
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