Have you been putting out a vegetable garden for years, but are ready to take your garden up a notch? Gardens don’t have to be solely functional – you can easily style your growing space to fit both your personality and your palette.
Sometimes called edible landscaping or a food forest, an edible garden is one that contains beautiful vegetables, flowers, herbs, and shrubs that add nutritional or medicinal value to the landscape.
Read on for a list of my favorite edible plants for gorgeous landscaping.
Building An Abundant Food Forest
Consider Your Location & Space
With good produce getting harder to find, you might want to start incorporating more edibles into your ornamental garden.
Oregon State University, in their landscaping guide, encourages the gardener to consider location when planning an edible garden:
Most fruits and vegetables require 6 to 8 hours of sun to produce well. Some of the native plants, such as salmonberry and thimbleberry, can take some shade, as can plants that have edible leaves, like lettuce and kale.¹https://extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/12281/ediblelandscaping.pdf
Another important consideration for the edible garden, particularly the urban edible garden, is space:
Be sure to think about the mature size of the plant. Dwarf or semi-dwarf trees and smaller-sized shrubs work well in small spaces. Trellises, fences, and arbors make use of vertical space on which to grow edible trees, shrubs, and vines.²https://extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/12281/ediblelandscaping.pdf
In addition to these big-picture questions, think about the vegetables and fruits that you and your household will actually use. Consider how much time you are willing and able to put into maintaining your garden. It’s okay to start small and grow from there!
Take Creative Liberty
Choose plants that you like the look of, and choose varieties that do well in your growing region. Consider planting native plants in your edible garden, along with edible perennials for food security season after season.
The North Carolina Cooperative Extentension offers this advice:
Instead of choosing landscape additions simply for color and beauty, evaluate their function and purpose. It’s a great time to incorporate plants and trees that provide food, increase biodiversity in your landscape, and create pollinator habitats for the good of all.³https://alleghany.ces.ncsu.edu/2020/04/edible-landscaping-in-covid-19/
The bottom line is this: have fun with it! Experiment with different plants and find out what works for you.
12 Edible Plants To Enhance Your Landscape
As previously mentioned, your garden is yours. There is no limit to what edibles you can plant, and how you plant them.
Use the following list as a starting point with suggestions to guide your edible garden – and make as many modifications as you want!
Growing up to three feet tall, globe artichokes are a beautiful addition to any garden. In hardiness zones six and above, artichokes can be grown as a perennial – in other zones, grow globe artichokes from seed or from root cuttings.
Plant artichokes in fertile, well-draining soil in full sun. Plan to place artichokes along fences or as border plants, as they grow tall and could potentially shade out other plants. Mulch the base of the plants to suppress weeds and trap moisture.
Artichokes are a member of the thistle family, and the edible flower buds are the artichoke hearts commonly available in grocery stores. Rich in several vitamins and minerals, including folate, potassium, and iron, artichokes promote healthy digestion while lowering blood sugar and pressure.
Harvest the buds before they bloom for a delectable treat, or let the buds flower for a pop of purple in your garden that native pollinators will love.
Almost too pretty to eat, eggplant is a lovely addition to an edible garden. Ranging in color from white to lavender to royal purple, eggplants in all shapes and sizes add color and texture to your edible landscape. Plant eggplants in full sun and in fertile soil that drains well.
Eggplants can become bushy, so allow about two feet between plants to allow eggplant space to fully mature. Eggplants do benefit from staking and mulching, but neither is required.
A member of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and peppers, eggplant is high in vitamins A and C, potassium, and dietary fiber. This superfood supplies crucial nutrients to the standard American diet.
Eggplants can be harvested before fully mature, but wait until the fruits are plump and have a shiny sheen for the best-tasting fruits.
Who doesn’t love bell peppers? You can easily grow your own and save yourself from paying premium prices for unripe supermarket peppers. Bell peppers and chile peppers have similar growing requirements, so incorporate both into your edible backyard.
Peppers thrive in fertile, well-draining soil that gets full sun. Plant peppers about 18 inches apart to promote airflow between plants and minimize pest damage. Choose a few varieties in different colors and shapes to add diversity to your edible garden!
Bell peppers are packed with antioxidants including vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene. Hot peppers contain a compound, capsaicin, that is proven to fight cancer and improve heart health.
If you don’t love spicy peppers, you should consider planting them anyway. Hot peppers work as a natural pest repellent in the garden–aphids, deer, and rabbits all tend to avoid hot pepper plants.
For maximum pest protection, dry and grind hot peppers into a mixture that you can sprinkle around your more vulnerable plants to keep bad bugs and mammals at bay. Just be sure to wear gloves to protect yourself!
(If you want to start pepper plants from seed, check out this guide on how to ensure good germination rates).
4. Swiss Chard
Rainbow Swiss chard is one of the most beautiful vegetables, and this leafy green is good for you too! Swiss chard grows fast and prefers full sun early in the season but will tolerate shade in the heat of summer. Swiss chard is perfect for container gardening, or as a companion plant to taller vegetables and shrubs that cast some shade.
In the same family as beets and spinach, Swiss chard is rich in several vitamins and nutrients essential to our health. Containing beta-carotene and vitamins A, C, and K, Swiss chard is a beautiful and tasty addition to the edible garden.
Harvest Swiss chard as any stage – chard seedlings are delicious as microgreens, or allow the leaves to get a foot or two tall to enjoy mature chard leaves in sandwiches or wraps.
If you are looking for a foolproof, soil-free microgreens growing kit, try out The Good Box (you can learn more here!)
Touted as a superfood, kale is one of the easier vegetables to grow. A beautiful leafy green, kale comes in many varieties – from the ruffled, purple leaves reminiscent of Siberian to the shiny, dark green leaves of Lacinato. There are even perennial and ornamental types of kale as well.
A member of the cool-season brassica family, kale is among the first plants to thrive in early spring. Start kale seeds inside and transplant out as soon as the soil can be worked. Kale prefers fertile, well-draining soil that gets adequate water and sunlight.
This cool-season vegetable can withstand partial shade once the weather warms. However, kale prefers full sun early in the season.
Kale is rich in vitamins A, C, and E, as well as folate and omega-3 fatty acids. Bursting with nutritional value, consuming kale regulary has benefit for bones, eyes, and general immunity.
Enjoy baby kale raw in salads, or saute the mature leaves like spinach. Kale is delicious in soups, or roast the leaves in the garden to make your own kale chips!
An ancient grain, amaranth seeds can be eaten like other seeds or even ground into flour. Amaranth leaves are also edible and should be prepared like spinach. Aside from being a nutritious superfood, amaranth is lovely in bouquets and even in the garden.
Native to North and Central America, all varieties of amaranth are edible, but for the best-tasting leaves, look for seed varieties marketed as edible. Amaranth varieties marketed as decorative will have a greater range of color, from burgundy to beige and pink.
Amaranth grain is high in protein and fiber, and also contains essential nutrients like iron and magnesium. With a nutty taste profile, amaranth is worth growing and incorporating into more weeknight dishes.
Beans are a staple in every vegetable garden, but beans are just as qualified for ornamental gardens. Pole beans climb lattices and fences so elegantly, and their foliage casts good natural shade over a bench. With hundreds of varieties to choose from, there are beans to add color and taste to every edible garden.
Beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. No need to start bean seeds indoors – but have a little patience and wait until after the last spring frost to plant beans. Plant pole beans near a fence or stake them so they can grow vertically; bush beans don’t need trellising but the will need space to branch out.
Beans planted in full sun will be the most productive plants, but beans will tolerate some shade, especially in the heat of midsummer. Bush beans do well in container pots.
Beans are an excellent source of plant protein, as well as heart-healthy antioxidants. A versatile vegetable that adds nutrition to any dish, beans are a worthy choice for the edible landscaped garden.
Who doesn’t love fresh strawberries? Strawberries are quick-growing, productive vines that are just as happy in a container or a raised bed as they are in the field. Some varieties of strawberries bear fruit twice a year – both in spring and fall.
Strawberry plants thrive in fertile, well-draining soil that receives partial to full sun. Strawberries will tolerate poor, acidic soil with some shade – so if you have a shady, sandy spot in your yard, add a little compost and try growing strawberries as a ground cover.
Strawberries, once established, will send out “runners,” or shoots, that you can easily separate and gift to friends and family! Or, you can transplant them to a different area of your garden.
With strawberries as a ground cover, you won’t have to worry about mowing anymore! And you’ll be putting your backyard to good use.
Whether or not you grew up picking raspberries from roadside brambles, you’ll understand their value in your edible garden. Raspberry vines are quick growing, and happily climb fences or walls, so be sure to plant them out of the way of your main garden.
Raspberries do have a tendency to sprawl, so if you’re concerned about them taking over your garden you can plant the brambles in large five-gallon pots. Also, look for thornless varieties and save yourself (and your kids) the pain of picking fresh raspberries.
Some varieties of raspberries (known as everbearing) bear fruit in both the spring and the fall. Bridge the gap between these dual harvests by planting a few thornless blackberry canes in your berry patch.
With proper planning and pruning, you can easily have a continuous berry harvest all season long.
Can we all agree that flowers add to every garden? With an edible garden, you may be tempted to forgo flowers for something more palatable. Luckily, there are a few flowers that add taste and color to an edible landscape.
Calendula, the lovely spring daisy, is an easy-to-grow, self-seeding annual flower that pollinators love. Also called pot marigold, calendula is rich in medicinal properties. The flower’s petals and foliage are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Pinch young calendula flowers and use the petals to garnish a fresh spring salad. Alternatively, harvest calendula stems, bundle together, and hang upside down in a dark place like a barn or shed.
Once the calendula has fully dried, blend the flowers and foliage into a tea. (Check out this article to get more ideas for herbs you can grow to make tea).
Nasturtims are another edible flower that adds pizzaz to the garden and plate. Rich in vitamin C and containing antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds, nasturtiums pack a nutritional punch. Top a freshly tossed garden salad with nasturtium blooms to add a spicy, crisp texture.
Ranging in color from cream to yellow and from pink to burgundy, nasturtiums aren’t only beautiful – these easy-to-grow annual flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden.
Known to repel cabbage loopers, squash bugs, and aphids, nasturtiums also attract beneficial insects like pollinators and predatory insects like hoverflies.
Any herb will complement an edible landscape, but one of my favorites to grow is mint. There are so many varieties of mint available, including spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, chocolate mint, and lemon mint.
Choose a few of your favorite flavors or grow them all! Garnish your favorite cocktail with mint leaves, or harvest the stems and dry to make your own tea.
Mint does have a tendency to spread, so either plant mint in a raised bed or container if you can. All varieties of mint are vigorous growers that thrive in poor soil and shade, making these cultivars an excellent choice for landscaping areas that won’t grow other vegetables.
Hopefully this guide will serve as your inspiration to build an edible garden this year! Reward yourself for taking a step towards bettering your health and the health of the environment. Involve your friends and family with the design, planting, and – of course – the harvest. Just see if your humble edible garden doesn’t inspire others in your community to do the same.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.
You might be interested to learn about food forests here.
¹ “Edible Landscaping,” Oregon State University Estension Service, p. 1, https://extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/12281/ediblelandscaping.pdf
² “Edible Landscaping,” Oregon State University Estension Service, p. 1, https://extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/12281/ediblelandscaping.pdf
³ Cockerham, Jill, “Edible Landscaping,” Alleghany County Center, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, 8 May 2020, https://alleghany.ces.ncsu.edu/2020/04/edible-landscaping-in-covid-19/
About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at http://sarahcolliecreative.com.