Foodscape your garden
Why replacing ornamentals with edibles is the next big thing…
When we picture an edible garden, we typically imagine neat rows of grouped vegetables, tidy orchards or raised beds overflowing with produce. These gardens have their own designated spaces, and a clear identity that most gardeners recognise.
But what if your edible garden could match the meticulously landscaped areas of the rest of your garden? At first glance, you may not even know many of the plants were edible, as they blend seamlessly into your design aesthetic. That’s the goal of foodscaping, a popular movement combining the growth of edibles with the practice of landscaping.
Foodscaping is not only about design, or making your garden beautiful and functional at the same time. It’s also about using all available garden space to grow your own produce to improve health, save money and combat food insecurity. Foodscaping focuses on lowmaintenance gardening – far from the labourintensive edible gardening practices many of us are accustomed to. This means lower water usage, fewer additional chemical products and less time spent worrying about your harvest overall.
Now that we’ve established why, the next question is – how? The scope of edible plants is massive, translating to a mass of different garden uses. Replace your typical groundcovers, hedges, bedding plants, containers and even houseplants with edible alternatives that look great and feed you year-round.
Groundcovers are an important part of a landscaped garden. They serve an aesthetic purpose – covering open spots of soil with greenery and colour – but also a practical one, acting as a living mulch that retains moisture in the soil and keeps weeds at bay. There are many low-growing edible plants that make the perfect groundcover while providing some other benefits at the same time. Nasturtiums are popular in edible gardens for their trap-crop qualities, particularly when it comes to aphids. Leave them to grow along an open patch of your garden and they become a great edible groundcover with many uses in the kitchen. Shorter herbs like oregano and mint serve the same purpose when harvested often, keeping them short and compact. For a flowering alternative, try creeping thyme. Harvest throughout the year and leave the plant to flower in spring for blankets of lush purple spread across your yard.
Hedges are a garden staple, whether used to separate the garden into rooms, create a formal atmosphere or simply to keep nosy neighbours out of your business. Edible hedges can be slightly more unruly that the traditional Buxus hedge, but their abundance of produce is well worth the effort. Berry shrubs like blueberries or blackberries are ideal. Choose taller varieties and prune often to promote the dense growth needed for a successful hedge. Those along the coast can try the indigenous Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa), which has sharp thorns that make a perfect security screen. Pomegranates also feature thorns and grow several metres tall, providing security and privacy.
Foodscaping does not have to interfere with your precious flower beds. In fact, it can enhance them, providing the colour we look for in a bedding plant, often without the temporary nature that comes with planting annuals. Here, your options are almost endless. You can opt for the already popular bedding plants whose flowers are edible, such as pansies or violas, or choose a taller perennial as the base of your bed, such as lavender. Herbs are another option if left to flower rather than pinching before they can get going, with chives and sage featuring some of the most beautiful flowers. If you’re looking for colour without the flowers, leafy greens such as spinach and kale provide wonderful ornamental value and endless nutritional benefits. Try spinach ‘Bright Lights’ or purple kale for stunning colour that doubles as a healthy base for your salads.
Container gardens are the perfect home for edible plants. They allow you greater control over your plant’s growing conditions – including the weather, which is incredibly difficult to manage in beds, and the soil, which has a massive impact on the quality of your harvest. And, almost any plant can be grown in a container, provided it’s big enough. This allows you to grow some of the traditional edible plants, like tomatoes, or experiment with the more ornamental edibles available. Containers are also great for smaller fruit trees that add height and interest to more uniform, one-note container gardens. Try growing your lemon tree in a pot on your patio for a bright touch of the tropics, or pot a few olives for a more Mediterranean feel.
Foodscaping isn’t reserved for the outdoors – it extends to your indoor garden too. It may be trickier to grow edible plants indoors given their higher light requirements, but many tropical edible plants are well suited to indoor growing conditions and benefit from the protection our four walls provide. Even without a sunny windowsill, you can still grow edibles indoors using grow lights, greatly expanding the range of plants to choose from. Herbs are always the go-to, with mint and chives growing very well indoors with direct sunlight. Avoid herbs like basil and coriander, which struggle under indoor conditions. Dwarf fruit trees, particularly citrus, may also produce fruit indoors with high-light conditions – the ideal plant to fill up an empty corner. For something a little different in the kitchen, try hibiscus. This is one of the few plants that flower reliably indoors, and the flowers are completely edible.