While studying horticulture decades ago, there was a clear division between the "ornamental" students and the "agricultural" ones. With organic gardening now mainstream, these two polar camps are coming together. Designers are looking to add food plants to both their residential and institutional projects. To do this, they are looking more closely at varieties that have evolved over the last 20 years to make food plants better suited to the landscape.
While studying horticulture decades ago, there was a clear division between the "ornamental" students and the "agricultural" ones.
With organic gardening now mainstream, these two polar camps are coming together. Designers are looking to add food plants to both their residential and institutional projects. To do this, they are looking more closely at varieties that have evolved over the last 20 years to make food plants better suited to the landscape.
The result is a more productive home landscape without sacrificing any of its beauty. It is a place where we are considering many food plants in lieu of very similar ornamental ones. For example, design classes emphasized fruitless cherries, plums and pears to bring spring color into ornamental gardens. They were some of our most widely used landscape trees, and remain so to this day. But now we ask: Why grow a fruit tree if it doesn't fruit?
Let's consider Bradford and Kawakamii pears, two long-standing fruitless pears. They are so similar to gourmet Seckel or Bosc pear trees, and just as easy to grow. Only with fruiting versions you enjoy spring flowers, summer fruit and fall color. What makes fruiting trees even more useful is that the same variety can be purchased in dwarf, semi-dwarf and full-sized trees. Such variation offers a size suited to both small spaces or an average yard.
Artichokes are large perennials with truly lovely foliage. Their large, deeply cut leaves are silver in color and stand out crisply against dark or vivid backgrounds. The strong stalks that rise from the plants produce the flower bud that we love to eat, scale by scale. The buds are attractive in their own right, but if left on the plant to mature, the result is a gorgeous blue thistlelike flower the size of a softball. In this case, you can enjoy foliage, food and flower all in one plant.
Another plant with multiple crops is fennel, because virtually every bit of it is edible. This is a beautiful, drought-resistant perennial that bears very finely textured foliage to create a cloudlike mass. Forms sold as Purpurea or Nigra bear attractive bronze foliage that is outstanding in the perennial garden. The plant's flavor is that of anise and vital to Mediterranean cooking. Foliage is easily snipped to add depth to all sorts of fresh summer dishes and salads. Fennel also produces a bulb at the base from which the stems rise, much like fine celery. The thick, corrugated bases are quite tasty, particularly when lightly sauteed in olive oil. When fennel blooms, it resembles dill with tall umbels of small golden flowers. Even the seed is valued, as it is the most intensely anise-flavored part of the plant.
Plants like rosemary are a great alternative to ordinary shrubs, particularly in the dry garden. This tough shrub is extremely heat-resistant and virtually nothing kills it but excessive wet in poorly drained soils. There are varieties that differ in proportion, though all bloom blue-violet. For very small gardens, creeping rosemary makes a great alternative as a groundcover. Identical to its full-sized cousin, this one is favored for cascading down the outside of raised planters.
It really goes without saying that grapes belong in gardens because this fast-growing vine makes quick shade for outdoor living areas. Rather than a wisteria, plant table grapes that dangle fruit instead of flowers; you'll enjoy vivid autumn color at season's end. You'll even have grapevine runners to cut during the dormant season to fashion into free wreaths and garlands.
If you're planning a new landscape or revising an existing one, use this list of plants to inspire you to make it more productive. Integrate them into your plan to make the landscape beautiful, and enjoy fruit, vegetables, herbs and garnishes for many years to come.
Top 20 edible and ornamental plants for landscaping
Raspberry and bramble fruits
Stone fruits - i.e., apple, pear
Sweet bay laurel
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.