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Bring your garden to your landscape
By Kathleen Ostrander

Imagine a set of tiered, cultivated areas around the house alive with a profusion of blossoms, colors and greenery. Around the cultivated beds are bermed areas with stands of shrubs. Several different trees, some of them blooming too, are around the house and the outskirts of the lawn.

The homeowners look around their property with pride and think — “hmmm — tasty.”

Homeowners have all this space and because fresh fruit and vegetables are good for you, why not tidily incorporate it all into edible landscape?

Rosalind Creasy, embraced her inner gardener and planted her vegetables among the flowers and greenery outside her front door. She’s getting ready to write a new version of her 1982 book, “The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping.”

University of Illinois Extension, Sangamon-Menard Unit Master Gardeners Gary Trammell and Janice Perino have both incorporated edible elements into their landscaping.

“I had to really sweet-talk my husband into it,” said Perino with a chuckle, “but I’ve got tomatoes in cages in front of the house. I could have gone for the smaller Roma or cherry tomato plants, but I wanted big tomatoes and I don’t think the cages look bad. You could plant the other kinds among the rose bushes and they would look just fine.”

Trammell has a series of raised beds in his front yard. Peas, beans and squash grow can grow quite comfortably among the black-eyed susans and cone flowers. In a rocky area, thyme, marjoram and even dill could grow among the rocks looking like green ground cover and functioning as additions to dinner dishes.

“You could put ornamental peppers and those short, red thai peppers out in the beds and they would look like flowers,” Trammell said.

Perino said people need to get over the notion that standard staid flowers are the only things to plant in gardens around the house. 

“Honestly, you can grow anything you would grow in a vegetable garden in flower gardens around the house,” she said. 

“If you are doing sculptured formal beds, what is to stop you from using garlic chives in the back and pansies in the front?” she asked.

Garlic chives have perfect purple flowers on top of long shiny stems. 

“You can keep pruning the back down and using it in food. I grow dill and parsley in this rocky area, and I can keep hacking away at it and using it and it still looks great. Purple basil is beautiful and so is thyme. If you look at some of the herbs, they have tiny flowers, but they are oh so perfect,” she said.

Oregano is great in a rock garden, and it also can be used as edible ground cover.

“You can have flowers coming up through it and it’s just great because it cuts down a lot on weeding,” she added. Both Trammell and Perino said bell peppers would be a beautiful addition to any garden.

Mint is virtually indestructible, and it’s pretty. Mint, spearmint and chocolate mint are just some of the varieties. Some kinds have woody stems and light green leaves; others have smaller, slightly puckered green leaves. But mint, she cautioned, will spread like wildfire so it needs to be kept in a controlled area. 

“Ours is next to the garage and it hasn’t figured out a way to jump the sidewalk yet,” she said.

On one of the back tiers of Trammell’s garden are blueberry and blackberry bushes. They are shrubby looking, Perino said, and not suitable for a formal hedge. 

“But what you can do is prepare the soil for them — they need a little more acidic soil — and make a sort of stand or one landscaped area. Mulch around it and they’ll stay there and it will look like a formal landscaped area,” she added. 

“I’m a lazy gardener,” Perino said. “I want to put it there and forget about it. You just put it there and think ‘OK, it might look a little scrubby, but that’s fine.’”

Fruit trees can be used in landscaping, they both said. Trammell said he has high hopes for his dwarf peach, and Perino said people who plant fruit trees and some berry bushes have to be prepared to wait for the fruit.

“Some might be ready the next season, but it will likely take a couple of growing seasons before they start putting out fruit. And remember, you have to keep them up and clean up the fruit around them. It will attract wasps and small animals if you leave it on the ground,” she said.

Strawberries shoot out runners for new plants, so they are inclined to move out from their original planting area. Trammell and Perino recommend putting them somewhere with the idea in the back of your head they are going to need room to spread out.

Although head lettuce might look a bit odd in a garden, there are other varieties of lettuce and spinach that can be used as flower bed borders. Perino has speckled lettuce. Squash blossoms as well as the squash are edible and attractive, and Swiss chard would grow nicely in a flower bed.

Rhubarb, with its bright red stalks and large graceful leaves looks, good when it starts growing and tastes good, too, Trammell said.

Perino is an advocate of container gardening. 

“You can use any kind of recycled container. I use plastic buckets and paint them. You can make a moveable garden and change it around,” she said.

Be creative in your containers. Herbs such as dill make a nice lacey frond that would look great around the flowers and make a nice addition to deviled eggs or potato salad.

Both said gardeners can make formal flower beds function as edible landscape areas by looking at vegetable plants in the same way as flowers.

“Think about height — what to plant in the front and the back of the bed. Think about what flowers and what will look nicer when the vegetables start coming out and getting ripe and think about what is edible and can be used as either ground cover or green accents,” Perino said.

Want more info?
For more information on the University of Illinois Extension, Sangamon-Menard Unit Master Gardeners, contact:

Jennifer Fishburn, horticulture educator

Sangamon-Menard Unit

Illinois State Fairgrounds, Building #30

Springfield, IL 62702



Story published Friday, May 7, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 3 )

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