How to Blend Edible Landscaping With Ornamentals

Trying to decide between planting a vegetable garden or decorative landscaping? You can have both at the same time! By incorporating vegetables, berries, and fruit into a landscape, you can combine the practicality of growing your own food with the visual appeal of traditional flowers and plants.

If you’ve planted a vegetable garden in the past, this new approach to edible landscaping requires a change of mindset. No longer will you segregate edibles and ornamentals or plant veggies in long, straight rows. Instead, edibles will grow in garden beds alongside ornamentals. Blending ornamentals and edibles has advantages beyond aesthetic beauty. Ornamental flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects, which may mean higher yields of fruits and veggies.

Edible landscaping requires some basic knowledge about landscape design. Read on to learn how to transform your yard into an edible landscape or blend edible plants into an existing ornamental landscape.

Designing an Edible Landscape

Landscape design can be overwhelming for beginners because various choices, factors, and design principles must be considered. Fortunately, professionals are available to help, and some even specialize in edible landscapes. For DIY-minded gardeners, it’s possible to create a beautiful, productive edible landscape on your own. (However, it’s worth listening to that oft-touted gardening advice to start small. It’s best to design a side yard before you tackle a quarter-acre backyard.) Follow this step-by-step plan to get started:

Step 1: Observe

Many experts advise waiting a full season before building or planting anything. That gives you time to notice the sun, wind, and water movements on the property and the location of shade trees, buildings, tree roots, power lines, septic tanks, underground utilities, and other existing elements that can affect your landscape.

Step 2: Prioritize

Decide what you want from the space. Do you desire a relaxing place, a play area, a low-energy landscape, a wildlife habitat, or an entertainment space? Your priority affects all your design choices.

Step 3: Design on Pen and Paper

Before you bring out the gardening tools, get out the drawing materials. Map the space as accurately as you can - consult a city property map or measure to get dimensions - and draw in existing buildings, trees, and landmarks.

Once you sketch out the existing space, it’s time to think like an artist decorating a canvas. First, locate your focal points. These may include a sculpture, fire pit, swimming pool, play structure, patio, chicken coop, pond, birdbath, or planter. Your main priority for the landscape helps decide which focal points to include. For example, a wildlife-friendly habitat may have a pond, whereas a play space calls for a play structure. Locate focal points where they’ll function best based on your seasonal observations. Plant requirements can help: most edible plants, greenhouses, and ponds need six or more hours of sunshine a day. However, many people prefer shady areas for patios, seating, and play areas.

Then it’s time to sketch in the bones of the garden, including any paths, fences, hedges, arbors, garden beds, and trees you want to plant. Beds must be accessible for planting and weeding, so any bed deeper than four feet benefits from a path or stepping stones through the middle.

Principles of landscape design, which include unity, scale, line, form, color, pattern, balance, contrast, rhythm, and variety, help determine how people interact with a landscape. For instance, gardens with curved lines and naturalistic forms are more relaxing than gardens with straight lines and geometric forms. (Even if you hire a designer, it helps to understand design fundamentals so you end up with the space you want.)

Blending Edible Landscape with Decorative: Designing a Landscape

Step 4: Build the Bones and Soil

Install paths, patios, fences, and arbors before you plant gardens. These elements help a yard look beautiful when edibles are dormant or in the seedling stage. Meanwhile, start building healthy, rich soil. If you need to transform lawn or compacted soil into garden beds, consider sheet mulching, a method of layering cardboard and mulch that creates healthy soil by mimicking natural processes. This is also a good time to investigate drip-irrigation systems, if desired.

Step 5: Design the Garden Beds

Finally, it’s time to design the garden beds. Follow these general guidelines for choosing and locating plants:

  • Always consider the size of mature plants.
  • Choose plants with a variety of bloom times to keep the garden visually interesting year-round.
  • Locate thorny and poisonous plants away from walkways and play areas.
  • Place plants that shed leaves or fruit away from pool areas.
  • Look at sun/shade requirements. Most edible plants prefer full sun, but some tolerate partial shade. These include garlic, salad greens, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, radishes, beans, most berries, mint, curly parsley, and chives.
  • For a lower maintenance landscape, include ornamental and edible perennials, which don’t need to be replanted every season.

Blending Edible Landscape with Decorative: Grow More Food with Less Labor

Most vegetable gardeners are accustomed to choosing edible plants based on taste preference and potential yield. You also need to consider aesthetics, especially the following three attributes:

Size: In gardens that border the space, place tall plants in the rear, mid-size plants in the middle, and short plants in the front. In island gardens, place a tree or tall plant(s) in the middle, mid-sized plants around it, and small plants on the edges.

Texture: Locate plants with contrasting leaf textures next to each other to create visual intrigue. (Keep reading to learn how to identify the three different leaf textures.)

Color: Colors affect people, so choose them thoughtfully and consider the following:

Blending Edible Landscape with Decorative: Edible Plants Sorted by Appearance

Once you choose plants, it’s time to arrange the bed. Repeat groupings of the same plants for visual impact. This maxim is especially true for smaller plants. Include an odd number of plants in each grouping – three, five, or seven – to create a sense of symmetrical balance. No need to be strict about the placement of groupings. You can loosely interweave randomly shaped, different-size clusters of one plant with clusters of a contrasting plant to create a naturalistic look. This popular technique is called planting in drifts.

Blending Edibles with Ornamentals

Whether you’re planning new beds or incorporating edibles into an existing landscape, you may want to blend edibles and ornamentals to get the benefits of both. When pairing types of plants, consider practical concerns. Be sure they have similar sunlight, water, and soil needs, and make sure their root structures are compatible. Planting annuals too close to perennials can be problematic since you’ll need to disturb the soil often.

Consider aesthetics, too. A fruit tree or tall edible can make an attractive center piece in an island garden. Fruit trees trained to grow up a fence make a beautiful backdrop for a border garden. The fine leaves of parsley can create a striking contrast next to coarse-leaved ornamental plants such as hostas (which are actually edible), and salad greens make an attractive groundcover in front of all sorts of ornamentals.

Perhaps the best part about blending edibles and ornamentals is the potential color combinations. Find out which flowers bloom in your area at the same time your veggies or fruit will mature, and seek out some striking matches. You may try pairing red coneflowers with tomatoes, yellow zinnias with yellow squash, or verbena with purple cabbage, or you may seek out plants with contrasting or complementary color schemes. You’ll have plenty of chances to experiment with different combinations: the placement of vegetables should be rotated each year to prevent soil-borne diseases and pest attacks.

Edible flowers are a great way to get started with edible landscaping no matter what your garden looks like now. It’s relatively easy to introduce perennial edible flowers into an existing ornamental landscape, and planting annual edible flowers will instantly introduce more beauty into an existing veggie plot. Flowers liven up salads and desserts, and many can be made into delicious teas.

Blending Edible Landscape with Decorative: A Sample of Edible Flowers

If you’re inspired to try edible landscaping, check out one of these references to learn more:

• Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

• The Edible Landscape by Emily Tepe

• Foodscaping by Charlie Nardozzi

• Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler


Once you start thinking about food crops as aesthetically pleasing plants for the landscape, your beautiful landscaped yard can put fresh, nutritious food on your dinner table.

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