Just imagine the pink and white blossoms of an apple tree signaling the arrival of spring and supplying fruit for a festive apple press in the fall; or a vegetable garden complete with a scarecrow that replaces your thirsty lawn; or container-grown blueberries just outside your door providing a sweet-tart treat in the warmth of summer and striking colors in the fall.
Intermixing fruit and vegetables into your landscape (sometimes called edible landscaping) is a growing practice around the country. Edible landscaping not only increases food production for your family but can add interest to your outdoor environment. For example, sweet corn planted in an ornamental bed adds height, movement, texture and a rustling sound. Left in place after harvest, the corn stalks become decorations for the Thanksgiving holiday.
In some cases, adding edible plants to the landscape can modify the environment for the benefit of neighboring plants. For instance, trellised scarlet runner beans planted on the sunny or windy side of shade-loving or more delicate plants give protection to these neighboring plants while adding blossom color and the rugged look of long, rough bean pods.
Integrating fruits and vegetables into your landscape — as opposed to confining them to rows or a patch — requires thinking about them differently. The easiest approach is substitution in which you replace an existing garden element such as a shrub or hedge with a like-purposed edible plant.
Alternatively, you can identify a missing or needed element in your ornamental garden and fill it with a well-suited fruit or vegetable plant.
In either case, the site will need to provide the necessary conditions such as the right sun exposure or soil type for the plant to thrive and look its best.
There are many edible annuals, perennials and trees from which to choose. (See sidebar for examples.) Browse through a seed or plant catalogue for ideas. Visit your local nursery to see the color, texture and movement of the plants they have on hand.
Be bold in your selections. But do follow a few rules:
• Familiarize yourself with plants before buying them including what the plant looks like at maturity and necessary growth requirements.
• Select fruits and vegetables (and varieties) appropriate for your microclimate and the job. Are you using the plant in a mixed border, as a screen, as a ground cover or in a container?
• Opt for disease resistance when available. This will result in less work and keep plants looking better.
• Follow principles of good landscape design; use contrasting plant size and shape, foliage and color for interest.
• Locate plants in full sun and protect fruits and berries from birds, if you want a good harvest.
• Keep the plants harvested and appropriately pruned. Because these plants will be close to your home and in daily view, keep them tidy and looking their best.
Get more out of your garden! Include double duty fruits and vegetables in your landscape.
Judy English and Jeanette Stehr-Green are certified WSU Clallam County Master Gardeners.
Ornamental fruit and vegetable plants
To help you get started with edible landscaping, here are a few suggestions of fruits and vegetables with ornamental quality that are suitable for the North Olympic Peninsula, along with some of their attributes. Plants marked with a “(P)” are perennials and survive for more than one growing season.
Apple tree — Pink or white flowers, fall fruit (P)
Artichoke — Height, spiky texture (P)
Asparagus — Height, fern-like texture, movement (P)
Blueberry — Spring flowers, summer fruit, striking fall color (P)
Cardoon — Similar to artichoke
Corn — Height, rustling sound, “country” personality
Kale — Ruffled stiff texture; colorful varieties like ‘Russian Red’
Lettuce — Multitude of colors and textures
Nasturtium — Shapely leaves, colorful and edible flowers
Okra — Hibiscus-like flower (but needs heat to mature)
Radish — Texture, color and border height
Rhubarb — Large leaves, leaf and stem color (P)
Runner bean — Red, white or peach blossoms; height; long pods
Summer squash — Edible yellow flowers, large leaves
Sun Gold tomato — Height, golden-orange fruit clusters
Swiss chard — Red, orange and yellow stems; red-veined leaves
Top-setting onion — Knobby texture, movement
Winter squash — Flowers, large leaves and crazy-shaped produce