While the edible garden may seem rather unconventional today, 65 years ago, when the nation was at war, edible landscapes were the norm. In a huge effort, the government encouraged individuals to plant Victory Gardens in their own yards or in community settings, to help fill in gaps in the food supply. It was seen as patriotic to provide food for oneself or for one’s neighbors.
Today, growing food at home is often seen as an effort relegated to crunchy, environmentally correct denizens. In fact, it is a natural complement to green architecture that can be both easy to achieve and beautiful to live with. Green architects often advocate sourcing building inputs (materials & products) locally, why not source human inputs (food) right in one’s own front or back yard? What better way to make use of land, retain water onsite, and keep surface areas cool and lush? Creating an edible, ornamental landscape allows us to pair green building design principles with ecologically sound landscape design and urban agriculture.
No lot is too small for an edible landscape, from tiny patios to acre+ parcels. In one recent project on a 3000 square foot lot, the homeowners wanted to introduce fruit and vegetable growing space. Creating a garden where towering tomatoes, sprawling squash, vining beans and fruit-laden trees could coexist with the family’s active indoor outdoor lifestyle and defined modern aesthetic meant considering food production, function and design aesthetics equally. A few of the strategies:
- Use hardscape to define zones. Permanent constructed elements like Corten steel planters, geometric concrete pavers, graphic river stone and cool toned decomposed granite, hold the design by providing a clean constant counterpoint that tames the wild look of the annual edibles that come and go through the seasons.
- Use living fences to squeeze production into skinny spaces. Espaliered fruit trees take the place of traditional hedging, delineating the boundary between this site and the neighbor’s lot, while producing cherries, Asian pears, apples, Pixie mandarins, blood oranges and limes. Additional trellising supports berry vines and grapes in other tight spaces.
- Provide well-designed planters and trellising for structure and support– large weathering steel (Corten) raised vegetable beds paired with powder-coated metal trellises and support an amazing bounty. Planters don’t have to be constructed from scratch – even an old cast iron tub can nourish new trees and plants.
- Plant edible living walls. Supported by geometric metal cabling, kiwi climbs its way up the side of the house – its red, fuzzy stems are graphic and unexpected. At the front porch, a passionfruit vine winds its way across the banisters.
- Create container gardens – No space should go un-used, especially in higher density urban areas. In the side breezeway adjacent to the kitchen, several containers serve as easy access herb and salad gardens.
Once they have been planted and established, the plants require light maintenance – regular pruning and trimming, fertilizer and watering. An irrigation system with multiple watering zones is best for ensuring plants get the amount of water they need in the most efficient way.
The annual and seasonal nature of edible plants ensures constant change and variety in the garden. Blushes of coral and pink fruit deepen into rich carotenes and purples through the summer. Wiry plant leaves shoot skyward into lush dark green fronds. Blossoming flowers evolve into heavy bulbs of fruit and vegetables. Delicate leaves of basil, cilantro and chives flourishing in hearty herb bushes. In combination with strong design elements, an edible garden is a delight to live with and eat from throughout the year.