Choosing Plants for an Edible Landscape
The edible landscape is coming into its own again as we look for yards and gardens that are more livable retreats. Edible landscaping incorporates fruit-bearing plants, culinary herbs, vegetables, and flowers that you can—yes—eat! It can start small by choosing one or two plants that are both attractive and edible (versus the fleeting bloom of a spring shrub, more lawn, etc.). We’ll help you pick the best plants—from shrubs to flowers!
It’s only in recent times that we have this urge to separate edibles from ornamentals. From the Egyptians to medieval monks, all plants worked together. Herbs and edible flowers were planted inside hedges; luscious grape vines spilled over an arbor, and berry shrubs formed a border.
Edible landscaping also happens to be good for your yard and the planet. Think of all the work, energy, water, and chemicals that go into a lawn or the fleeting beauty of cultivated azaleas or peonies. There’s little reward beyond “looks” when the space could be both beautiful and useful.
You can start simple. There are many creative ways to sneak more edible plants into your landscaping without sacrificing good looks. The technique is also a great way to maximize production in a limited space.
Edible landscape. Planting crop-yielding and ornamental plants together. Credit: Fotolinchen/Getty Images.
How to Create an Edible Landscape
- It’s important to choose edible plants that are ornamental but not especially appealing to wildlife.
- Think color. Rainbow chard or strawberry plants add color to a flower border.
- Think useful. A short-blooming peony or azalea could be replaced with a blueberry bush or rosemary plants.
- Consider structures. A fence or small arbor is a wonderful way to bring vining fruits to the backyard; the structures add an attractive feature even before/after the plant blooms or is harvested.
- Think contrast. If you have bright orange or yellow bulbs, mix in salad greens to fill in the ground space.
- Think containers. Small hot pepper plants add color and can placed right along side brightly-hued flower containers of complementary colors.
A border of vegetables and marigolds. Credit: AKodisinghe/GettyImages
Fruit for Edible Landscaping
If you have room for another shrub or two, try planting highbush blueberries. These tidy shrubs have pretty, bell-like flowers in the spring, tasty fruit in the summer, fall foliage colors ranging from gold to deep red, and twisty branches with interesting bark in winter—making them a year-round delight. See our Growing Guide for Blueberries.
If you are looking for a flowering tree, consider planting a dwarf apple, peach, pear, plum, or cherry tree. There are lots of dwarf tree varieties to choose from that will give you beautiful blossoms and delicious fruit. If space is tight, try an espalier.
Fruit trees can be trained to grow along a wall, fence, or against the side of the house. I recently visited a garden that had alternating pears and apples growing up the front of the house. The homeowner says she can pick the fruit from her bedroom window!
If climbing vines are needed to act as a screen or cover an arbor, try hardy kiwi or grapes. They may take a few years to reach fruiting size, but it will be worth the wait.
See all of our Growing Guides for Fruit Trees and Vines.
Brambles (Raspberries and Blackberries)
Brambles are easy to grow and make great hedges. They need full sun but will still bear a reasonable amount of fruit in light shade. Raspberries are available in many colors including red, gold, black, and purple. Plus, there are thornless varieties of raspberries and blackberries that make picking much easier.
Alpine strawberries are better behaved than their larger counterparts. Most do not send runners all over the place but grow as neat little mounds instead, making them a tidy edging plant for flower beds. As day-neutral strawberries, they blossom and bear a large flush of fruit in the spring and continue to repeat blooming and fruiting throughout the growing season. Kids love picking these tiny treasures; even though the berries are small, they pack a lot of flavor. Take a morning walk with bowl in hand and collect some for your breakfast cereal, if the kids haven’t already eaten them all!
Herbs and Vegetables for Edible Landscaping
If you want a quick cover, pole beans will do the job, giving you flowers to enjoy and awesome beans for dinner. For extra color, try yellow ‘Golden Gate’, speckled ‘Rattlesnake’, or purple Italian heirloom bean ‘Trionfo Violetto’. If you have nibbling pests like rabbits, simply encircle the bottoms of the plants with chicken wire but the height of pole beans generally means the pods are out of reach.
You can sneak some herbs into the flower border as well. Some herbs are safer choices for edible landscaping; rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano all add interesting foliage and scents to the garden.
Both rosemary and lavender look great as borders or clipped hedges to add structure to the garden or yard. Thyme makes a great ground cover, as it’s a low-growing herb.
See all of our Growing Guides for Herbs.
Onions, Garlic, Chives
These “stinky” plants are beloved by humans but not by most animal pests. In fact, this allium family works great as a border to keep critters away from other plants!
For many greens, we’d stick to growing in containers or raised beds in order to keep out critters. However, they can easily be incorporated into the flower garden, too.
‘Bright Lights’ or ‘Rainbow’ Swiss chard have beautiful yellow, gold, and red stalks and veins. Red-leaved, bronze, or freckled lettuces such as ‘Lollo Rossa’, ‘Bronze Arrowhead’, and ‘Flashy Troutback’ are very attractive plants; and ‘Red Russian’ kale has blue-green leaves with red veins and edges. Kale is a nice choice in the fall when other edibles are harvested.
Create a border or bed of kale surrounded by chard and nasturtiums. Credit: Peter Turner/Shutterstock.
There are many beautiful vegetables that work really well in an edible landscape.
- Artichokes look beautiful as a perennial border, especially as a backdrop for other plants.
- Eggplants also add gorgeous color and texture. The long, thin varieties mature quickly and the dangling strands of ’Ping Tung’ make a nice contrasting form against showy flowers. You could also try some of the Middle Eastern varieties, like Turkish Orange. For some reason, eggplants mixed with scented flowers also tend to keep away the critters.
- Hot peppers add a kick of color to your yard; with sweet bell peppers, you can create a rainbow of colors! As with the pole beans, just protect your peppers at the base when they’re young. Once they’re taller, they should be safe from critters.
Hot Pepper plants from All-American Winners.
Even if you have an apartment balcony or small patio, it’s easy to grow herbs and vegetables. Containers are also a great choice for busy families. Grow a pot of lettuce and you can harvest tender greens throughout the gardening season, or try cherry tomatoes and pop them into your mouth right off the vine!
Yellow Patio Tomatoes from All-American Winners.
This seems like a no-brainer, but don’t forget to include flowers that are edible! They look great in a salad or soup—and are oh-so-pretty. See some of our favorite edible flowers for growing and eating!
You get the idea. It’s okay to mix things up and experiment, so try out different edible varieties all over your garden. Vegetables look great planted among the ornamentals and need not be banished to the back yard. Think edibles to make your landscape productive and pretty.
Front garden! Plant veggies inside or along hedges. Credit: BassieB/Getty.
Don’t let planning your garden overwhelm you! Design your landscape with Almanac Garden Planner. Get a free one-week trial—ample time to play around!