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Edible Landscapes



More and more of my clients are interested in including edible plants in their gardens. They’re into cooking, great food, fine wine and entertaining, and they appreciate the special flavors that come when they grow and harvest their own edibles.

It’s incredibly satisfying to walk out into one’s own garden and pick fruits or vegetables or herbs. Not only do these edibles taste better than store-bought produce, but any gardener can be reasonably sure that the foods they grow are free of pesticides and other undesirable contaminants.

No matter what style of landscape you’re creating for your clients, you can easily incorporate these plants into the plan without creating a maintenance nightmare. And I suspect most of your clients will be pleasantly surprised by what they can grow in their own yards.


While a large percentage of your clients may want something edible in their gardens, most of them will probably avoid bringing up the subject because they believe growing their own edibles takes a lot of work.

After you’ve established that they’d like some types of fruit, vegetables or herbs in their garden, let them know you’ll help them through the selection and maintenance process – and that both processes are easier than they think.

Try asking your clients what types of foods they like. Do they cook often? What types of foods do they prepare and what types of herbs do they use? Once you’ve established some preferences, you can begin creating a list of suitable plants.

After that, you need to address three important points about edible plants in a watershape environment: sun exposure (which you need to consider with or without a watershape), location and the proximity of any edibles to the water.

[ ] Sun exposure: Most edibles require full sun. Sure, some will thrive in partial shade, but the greatest chance of success comes with full sun. The plants need the exposure to feed the chemical reactions required to produce large, sweet, good-quality fruit.

(Note: I use the word “fruit” here to mean any edible things that are produced by plants. Please be aware that many garden guides use the word “fruit” to mean anything other than a seedpod or flower that a plant produces. Just because they use the word “fruit” doesn’t mean its edible, which means you need to investigate a particular plant thoroughly before planting to be sure the fruit you’ll get can actually be eaten.)

[ ] Location: Your clients will need to be able to pick the fruit or cut the vegetables and herbs from their plants easily, so watch where you put them. You wouldn’t want your client to have to wade through their pond to get to their prized raspberry bush. Think things through and do what you can to ensure easy access from all angles (depending upon the plant, of course).

[ ] Proximity to the watershape: Many plants that produce edibles are deciduous. These plants need to be placed as far as possible from any watershape to avoid the inevitable maintenance hassles. Remember that some leaves and debris from plants also can cause harm to water environments.


Selecting plants is one thing. Growing them successfully once they’ve been planted can be quite another. There isn’t space here to cover all the do’s and don’ts of growing, but let me cover the basics.

[ ] Water. After determining which edibles your client wants, you’ll need to check on each particular plant’s watering needs. (It’s a common misconception that plants that produce something edible need lots of water!) As with any planting plan, it’s a good idea to group plants with similar watering needs in one location.

Retained Knowledge

Edible plants can work with any garden style. You simply need to remember how to incorporate different shapes, textures, colors and sizes of plants into the plan.

Here are a couple of examples of how edibles can work within a couple of common (but classic) landscape styles.

* The cottage garden. Any plant, no matter its shape, texture or size, can be incorporated into a cottage garden. I’ve found that edibles work quite well in these landscapes. It’s easy to nestle herbs such as chives, marjoram or basil into a naturalistic planting, while larger plants such as citrus trees or loquats can be scattered throughout a cottage garden. The key here is spacing – and leaving gaps between the big plants large enough to allow sun to reach the lower-growing edibles.

* The formal garden. This is actually the easiest garden style for edibles. Just think of the great kitchen gardens of Europe. Huge expanses were often used to plant all the fruits, vegetables and herbs an entire village might need. Some of these gardens still exist today and are represented quite well in beautiful coffee-table books. The French chateau of Villandry, for example, has one of the most celebrated kitchen gardens in the world.

But be advised that you won’t need to create an elaborate, chateau-scale garden for your clients to have edibles in their yard. Even the smallest plot of land can be converted into a fully edible landscape!

— S.R.

[ ] Fertilizer. The choices here are endless – everything from home composting options to heavy chemical fertilizers. I’m guiding more and more of my clients to small, simple composters or organic fertilizers these days. (The Internet can be a great resource for these methods.) Informing your clients about their choices for healthy food production will likely put you in their good graces.

[ ] Pest control. This is one of my favorite subjects. Every year, I love going to the nursery to get a load of ladybugs to release in my yard. I think they’re a better choice for pest control than heavy chemical repellents. Again, the Internet has many sites that discuss natural pest control. Check them out by typing “pest control” into any search engine.

[ ] Pruning. Although each plant will have its own pruning requirements, be aware with herbs in particular that many of them will not last quite as long if they are allowed to bloom. I cut off most blooms on herbs before they open up. That way, the plant spends more time producing edibles and less time making flowers. Fruit trees, by contrast, produce blooms that eventually become the fruit. You’ll need to be careful to research your selections thoroughly and let your clients know what each plant needs.

Next month, I’ll give you a list of plants you can use in an edible landscape – and suggest some ways of putting together a design that will work for you and your clients.

Stephanie Rose wrote her Natural Companions column for WaterShapes for eight years and also served as editor of LandShapes magazine. She may be reached at [email protected].

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