Growing Grass? How About Food?

This summer, Ohio gardeners are adding a little “flavor” to their yards by incorporating edible plants, shrubs and trees in their ornamental landscapes. It’s a delicious trend that has gardening professionals responding with clever ideas to make residential landscapes productive and beautiful food sources.

Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau member Ruth Ham of April Showers Greenhouse in Sugarcreek defines edible landscaping as “the joining of functional aesthetics and a proper food source.”

“It shows people how to utilize their small spaces to create the food production they desire in a visually pleasing way,” she said.

At its simplest, Ham suggests rerouting plants once reserved for the vegetable plot to bring a new and interesting look to yards, like using frilly and leafy, red tinged or bright green lettuces planted for borders­­—and then for salads. Big showy heads of cabbage, kale, and cauliflower as well as herbs like lavender will add beauty and interest during the growing season and food to the table when early fall rolls around. Fruit trees that can be grown in containers are easy to incorporate and move to optimal spots in the landscaping.

“Utilizing your landscaping for food production is much more efficient than just setting aside a small, dedicated plot,” Ham said.

Bill Hendricks, owner of Klyn Nursery in Perry and a master gardener through Ohio State University Extension, said edible landscaping and cultivated plants have been a part of every culture.

“Ornamental landscape plans were developed in the 1800s,” he said. “Originally, nurseries dealt in brambles, fruit trees and edibles—it was all about food crops.” Although “edible landscape” is a modern term, Hendricks points out that if you go through nursery catalogs from Victorian times, there were plenty of food plants used in the landscape.

Hendricks appreciates that when edible plants are part of the landscaping, a walk through the garden can yield ready-to-eat fruits.

Like Ham, Hendricks also recommends mixing edibles in perennial or annual beds but suggests looking for edible landscape plants that are renewable resources such as hops, which grow vigorously on a trellis, horseradish and rhubarb, which both have big, beautiful foliage, and asparagus that sends up feathery fronds after the spring harvest.

Jeanne Quartz, coauthor of the Ohio Gardener’s Journal, notices that as people have less yard to work with, they don’t have the room or perhaps the right exposure for a proper vegetable garden, but they can find the perfect spots to add edibles.

“Edible landscaping is a two-for-one deal,” she said. “If you use your edibles as annuals, it will save you money.”

Quartz suggests replacing seasonal planting such as zinnias with equally colorful yet edible Rainbow Swiss chard or incorporating red or yellow bell pepper plants for color.

“People are tired of the pristine, perfect landscapes that is there just to look at,” said Jennifer Bartley, author of Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook. “They want to combine something beautiful with something useful.”
She notes these gardens are not necessarily low maintenance, but there is joy in being connected to your garden and it can get everyone involved.

“It is time consuming,” Ham said, and some plants are easier to maintain than others. “Pruning fruit trees takes work while blueberries are pretty easy but you have to beat the birds to the berries.”

Ham said edible plantings tend to attract wildlife so protecting some of the plants is necessary.

“Remember to grow for the climate,” she cautions. “Do not try and create an atmosphere for things like lemon trees.”

Marilou Suszko is a freelance writer from Vermilion.

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Picking Plants:
For more information on any planting, growing habits, harvesting and more, visit Plant Facts, an online digital collection of horticulture and crop science information developed by Ohio State University Extension.

Top Edible Picks
Our Ohio asked local experts to name their top edible landscape picks. Below are Ruth Ham’s suggestions. See what other experts chose for their landscapes.

Lady Blue Blueberries
This lovely shrub will begin producing beautiful blueberries in just three years. With pruning, it will stay compact, about 4 feet high. Loves full sun and a peat moss mulch.

Golden Child Raspberries
The upright-based shrub has thorns to keep the rabbits at bay. Prefers rich soil, full sun and compost mulch. The yellow fruits are sweet, require less sugar and are the best for making pies.

An upright, kind of boxy shrub with long thorns and a wild look; doesn’t require much pruning. The berries are good for pies and freeze well for making smoothies in the winter.

June Bearing Strawberry
Produces better in cooler soils, composed with mulch and straw, and does not require much fertilizer. A perennial favorite, plant them as a border among flowerbeds. Big beautiful flowers attract honeybees and beneficial insects and yields delightful berries, too.

Bell Peppers
Container planting allows for incorporating vegetable production into landscaping. Does best in full sun with a compost rich potting soil mix. Varieties called Red Beauty and Hungarian Wax are good choices for adding color, and the fruits are good for preserving and freezing.