There is a resurgence of home vegetable gardens and people interested in growing their own food. A few reasons for this shift are higher food costs, environmental awareness and stewardship, plus the amount of chemicals being used on our food. These factors have contributed to the trend and new innovative way of thinking about landscaping, called Edible Landscaping.
Since the early 1900’s, landscape design has focused on and been limited to hardscaping, trees and shrubs, a few perennials, and a large lawn. Edible landscaping includes fruits, vegetables and herbs in addition to the traditional landscape design. Edible plants are nutritional as well as attractive. Edibles such as cucumber, eggplant, melon, squash and zucchini are covered with showy blossoms that turn to beautiful fruit and vegetables. Other edibles like leaf lettuce, red lettuce, cabbage, carrots and Swiss chard have attractive, colorful stems and foliage. Other suggestions for edibles in the landscape are blueberries and Fig trees. Rabbiteye blueberries are native to the southeast and perform wonderfully with little care.
A person’s lifestyle, available space, interest and family situation are important factors to consider when deciding the amount of edible landscaping to plant and maintain. The edible landscaping possibilities can range from a dedicated vegetable garden, planting edibles in landscape beds, to container gardening, or a combination of all these. Think back to vegetable gardens your family or neighbors had; was it a traditional backyard vegetable garden, with a haphazard look and generally lacking in visual aesthetic? Over the past 20 years, we’ve transformed the vegetable garden into a new art form. There are endless design variations on a garden full of vegetables.
The soil in Huntsville, Alabama is the famous Alabama red clay, and for most homeowners, compacted red clay. To be successful growing vegetables and edibles our red clay needs to be amended by adding compost, soil conditioner, worm castings and organic fertilizers. The key to a beautiful healthy landscape, edible or not, is healthy soil. This may not sound glamorous, but is the most important factor for any plants health.
Raised beds and container gardening are excellent methods to grow vegetables and fruits if you have poor soils. The main benefit is that you can fill raised beds and containers with a blend of soils that maximize your gardening efforts. The soil also warms up faster in the spring in raised beds and containers and this helps seedlings and plants grow sooner. Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable for containers, but many other vegetables grow well in containers.
In my own garden, I struggle with difficult, compacted clay soil. I spent three years trying to amend my vegetable garden soil and raise the soil level so that my traditional row garden would be successful. This year I built and installed raised beds, painted them to be colorful and attractive throughout the year and filled them with a mixture of topsoil, soil conditioner, compost, worm castings and chicken manure. The results are amazing! I credit the successful results to the raised beds and the quality of the soil.