Why ‘Foodscaping’ Is Better Than Regular Landscaping
For most people, landscaping is a purely decorative act. We design the exteriors of our homes for visual impact more than anything, resulting in immaculate lawns and colorful edgings that look great (unless you’re doing it wrong) and serve absolutely no other purpose. If you pause to think about it for a moment, the fact that we spend considerable amounts of money, time, and effort installing and caring for plants that exist solely to augment our home’s exterior is kind of wasteful.
Recently there’s been a rising alternative to traditional landscaping around your home: foodscaping. It’s a pretty simple concept: Instead of a bunch of plants that look nice but serve no other function, utilize edible plants—vegetables, edible flowers, fruit and nut trees, and herbs, for example—to create gorgeous landscaping that’s also functional and ecologically beneficial.
The benefits of foodscaping
Foodscaping offers many benefits over traditional landscaping:
- Food. The whole point of foodscaping is that your landscaping produces fresh, organic food you and your family can enjoy.
- Money. Growing your own food can save you some money at the grocery store—several hundred dollars a year, at least.
- Water. Lawns and other landscaping can be incredibly thirsty decorations. Foodscaping, on the other hand, can reduce your water usage significantly.
- Environment. You’ll reduce your environmental impact in other ways: By not driving to the store as much, and by not throwing away as much packaging from your produce.
While many people consider vegetables to lack the visual beauty of more traditional landscaping plants, it’s actually not that hard to design an edible foodscape that has all the wow factor you need.
How to start foodscaping
One of the most important aspects of foodscaping is that it’s not an all-or-nothing, monolithic concept. If you already have landscaping you’ve invested a time and money into or you’re not sure foodscaping will work out the way you hope, you can start small. For example, you might choose to simply plant some edible edging—lettuces are awesome for this, but any relatively low-maintenance plant can work as an edge, and starting with some edging means you won’t need to rip out existing landscaping or worry that you’ve just destroyed your home’s curb appeal.
Whether you plan to start small like that or go whole-hog and turn your yard spaces into humming food factories, foodscaping really is as easy as planting things you can eat instead of things you can’t. Here’s a quick guide to getting started:
- Start with food you enjoy. The whole point of foodscaping is to make landscaping more useful; there’s no point in growing stuff you won’t eat. Think about the vegetables that are staples in your diet and start there. You can check out the database of All-America Selections to see varieties that have been shown to grow well in gardens across America. Of course, you’ll need to know what USDA Zone you’re in and what will grow well in your climate.
- Apply the same design tenets. It’s really a myth that edible plants and vegetables have to be ugly. Once you have your short list of edibles you’ll actually eat, you can create a landscape that incorporates color and dimension the same way more traditional landscaping does. And there’s no rule here—it’s OK to mix edible and non-edible plants into your design if that’s the only way to achieve your aesthetic goals. You’ll still get some of the economic and environmental benefits of foodscaping, and you can always expand your foodscape imprint later.
- Remember most edibles are annuals. You might want to mix in some perennials for year-round coverage to anchor your landscaping, but most of the food you’ll grow in a foodscape will be annuals. That means there’s no overwhelming commitment: If you don’t like the way it turned out or feel like you chose the wrong foods to grow, just plant something else next year.
- Think in utilitarian terms. Plants that grow as vines, like melons or even tomatoes can be used on fencing to create beautiful barriers. Artichokes grow pretty tall and have pretty flowers, making them great choices for pops of color. Strawberries can make great choices for ground cover.
Before you dive feet-first into foodscaping, one final aspect to consider is local regulations, especially Homeowners Association (HOA) rules, if they apply to your home. Some HOAs are very strict about vegetables in front yards, so be sure you’re not going to open yourself up to fines if you choose to explore foodscaping.
You should also consider taking some steps to protect your foodscaping from local critters who will see it as a free buffet. There are many ways to keep animals out of your crops that don’t involve death and cruelty, ranging from planting mint or garlic (which many animals avoid) to using sound and invisible fencing, but it’s best to think about this before you wake up one day to find some local animals have had a party in your front yard.