One of the best reasons to irrigate a garden space is so you can eat from it. Using Permaculture practices and a culinary mind frees all of the delicious fruits, herbs, and veggies from the far corner of the backyard to where the front lawn used to be and everywhere in between. It is best to approach edible garden designs the same way you would any ornamental plan, by creating an entire landscape full of different heights, colors and textures.
The key is to not segregate the edible plants into neat little rows or separate growing spaces. Use fruits, herbs, and vegetables not only for their taste, but also for their beautiful flowers and foliage. It is a great bonus to let plants bolt to collect seed, attract pollinators and add beauty and unique flavor to any recipe, as one can’t easily buy cilantro, arugula, or nasturtium flowers at the market.
Use traditionally edible plants for annual and perennial color and herbs and fruit trees as screens and specimens throughout the garden. Most cooking herbs like rosemary, sage, and lavender have very beautiful flowers and foliage and are very drought tolerant perennials, and the varieties of edible plants available are endless.
These lavish gardens can be called Food Forests because they have several layers to them like a real forest ecosystem. Most trees do not exist alone in nature but are surrounded by an understory of edible plants. These include bulbs like onions, Achirra, carrots, and beets and groundcovers like oregano, strawberries and mint as well as edible shrubs like artichokes, guavas, and blueberries. Vine layers can be created with thornless blackberries, kiwis, and passion fruit and the canopy layer is made up of any fruit or other tree variety suited to the location. By growing these different types of plants together in specific guilds, there will be various forms, niches, and functions met and they will perform better with less inputs. An apple tree guild* is one good example of this process. It includes artichoke, dill, fennel, nasturtium, yarrow, comfrey, clover, walnuts and mulberries. As the plants mature each one fulfills a specific role from pollinator attraction, mulch accumulation, to nitrogen fixer or pest repellent to help its neighbor thrive. For instance, a mulberry tree acts as a physical buffer to neutralize the allelopathic affect from the walnut that would kill off the apple if planted too close. Another strategy is to include some ornamental flowering plants that fit into the guilds and serve multiple functions such as providing nectar sources, creating shade or reducing root zone competition.
Overall, this planting style equals higher yields with less costs in valuable water, time, and money resources. Using cues from Mother Nature we can all create highly abundant and beautiful food producing gardens that you will not only want to share with your friends and family, but all of the passing birds and butterflies as well. Happy Gardening!
Josh Carmichael is the owner of Carmichael Environmental, a landscape design build company specializing in sustainable land use strategies. Created from his passion of art & science and love of the natural world, view results and read articles from Josh’s many years of experience in environmental consulting, green building, and community outreach projects at www.carmichaelenvironmental.com. For inquiries; to schedule a consultation or landscape services call (805) 801-6956..