My grandmother had an old habit of always planting her herbs by the back door of the kitchen. She took a flowerbed that was there and incorporated most of her herbs in with the lovely flowers in her flower garden. Many of the flowers were also edible. She told me this was so that as she was making dinner she could just step out and get fresh herbs to go with dinner.
As a homesteader, I want to save as much of the property for the homestead and farming as possible. So instead of simple landscaping, I opted to go with some edible landscaping like my grandmother did. It gives my homestead some visual and curb appeal as well as extra food sources for our kitchen use. Many of my friends and neighbors were amazed when I told them what I was doing. Here are some of our favorite ways to incorporate an edible garden into our homestead and add to the beautiful look of our yard and gardens.
photo above: edible garden
Before you start, it’s important to make sure that the flowers you’re planning on using are edible. Consult a good reference source to ensure that you’re not going to be eating something that may potentially poison you.
Top 6 non-edible flowers:
- Azalea: Stomach and digestive issues
- Calla Lily: Oxalate crystals in the plant can cause swelling of lips and mouth. Leaves are edible after cooking.
- Clematis: Dermatitis, digestive issues
- Daffodils: Digestive issues, heart arrhythmia
- Foxglove: Heart issues, headache, stomach ache. Digitalis (a heart medication) is derived from foxglove.
- Wisteria: Poisonous for pets, especially the seeds.
When in doubt, don’t eat it. Also, be sure to avoid pesticides and other harsh chemicals that may cause illness as well.
Some plants, such as rhubarb, have a portion that is edible, and a portion that is poisonous. Rhubarb leaves are highly toxic and will cause serious digestive issues or even death if too many of them are consumed, yet the stalks are delicious in a jelly or jam recipe.
Also keep in mind, that many herbs, such as chamomile, grow by roadsides, don’t eat plants that grow by roadsides as they could be toxic due to emissions from cars and from pesticides that may be sprayed there to prevent weeds on the sides of the roads we travel on.
Keep in mind too that some flowers are likely to cause digestive issues in those who are sensitive even if they are edible. Start out sparingly when incorporating flowers into salads and stir fry meals. Don’t use too many to begin with until you see how your guests are able to digest them.
How To Incorporate Edibles Into Your Landscaping
The art of incorporating edible landscaping into your yard is to focus on integrating food plants within the ornamental plants. It’s as easy as substituting edible landscaping plants like lettuces, oregano, rosemary, lavender and other plants into the landscape design in and around the home. Take the time to plot out what you do and don’t like and then incorporate these into what you already have for flower beds. It’s amazing how quickly you can fill in a flower bed with companion planting and edibles vs ornamentals.
Many people prefer to use a variety of colors and others prefer to use one color per flower bed. Whatever you select, you’ll have plenty of great options with all of your vegetables and flowers. One of our preferred plantings incorporates purple bush beans as our “bushes”. These have lovely delicate flowers and purple beans hanging off of the plant later in the season.
We have some purple irises nearby and then lavender planted in between our beans. We’ve focused all on one color here and added in some viola’s in the very front. I call it my “purple” garden. I’ve added in some purple rocks and some hanging baskets here and there as well. It’s a lovely addition to the garden.
Lavender, for example, will become a very full plant and bush out if it’s planted in the right area. Sage will also do this as well bee balm and other plants that tend to easily bush out. These make them ideal for corners or to fill in areas where you want something that will simply fill in. Oregano is another great option for plants that fill in the area. I once had an oregano plant that just took over the entire side of a flower bed we had. We were literally giving it away to all of the neighbors.
Choosing edible vines such as climbing peas or pole beans for trellises and archways in lieu of other plants. Moving the basil to an area where it can be a part of the yard while still being an herb that is used in cooking is an ideal way to create your own dream garden that’s edible in and around your home and yard.
Every Type Of Soil
The best part about it all is that there are edible herbs and plants for every soil situation. Areas that are rocky or full of clay will be easy to plant in if you’re utilizing such planting ideas. Adding in cool seasonal borders such as lettuce and spinach in among the marigolds (also edible) and violas (again, edible) will give your border areas a lovely curb appeal and help to fill your tummy at dinner time.
For some depth you may wish to add in some taller salvia or if the area is shady you might wish to consider planting strawberries which prefer the shade and will fill in as a great ground cover. When the flowers come on you’ll enjoy their delicate petals and then the berries will replace those with lovely red rich berries for your table. Another great ground cover is thyme (available in several flavors).
Another great way to do the berries is to use a terraced flower bed. Plant the strawberries where they can trail down and work as a ground cover and then go upwards and plant other plants. Mix a few of the strawberries in with these so that they will trail as well. Don’t forget to add in some creeping thyme and some creeping rosemary.
Incorporate some parsley and mint and you’ll have herbs for cooking and tea. Plant some clumps of lavender for a variety of purposes. It will give a lovely focal point and lavender floating in lemonade is a lovely addition.
Try some blueberries in a few pots in and around your garden (you can move them around for maximum sunlight) and plant a few currant bushes and huckleberries or other berry bushes to add some character and delicious berries to the landscaping.
Consider seasonal options. In the early spring and late fall opt for lettuces, spinach, and other cool weather crops. You can define pathways and entries with such options and still have a lovely looking pathway or entry. Incorporate some edible flowers into these and make sure that the flowers bloom throughout the year and you’re well on your way to a lovely edible garden.
Broccoli is another great plant to incorporate into your borders around your house. It prefers filtered sun and loves the cooler weather as well. Don’t forget cabbage and leave plenty of room for it to grow huge. Cooler weather plants will do ideal in the spring and late fall.
Sunflowers are ideal for later in the spring. Plant taller versions against the house and then gradually reduce the size as you work your way out to the front of the house. You can save some of the seeds for next year and roast the rest for nibbling on or adding to your salads. You may also wish to save some of these for your bird feeders but don’t roast those, the birds prefer them raw.
Create a Design
Perhaps you have an arbor, a trellis, or a pergola, this is the ideal place to plant some climbing beans or peas in among the climbing roses (which by the way, are also edible). From the roses you can eat the petals, as well as the rose hips that develop after the petals fall off of the stems. When the beans and peas bloom you’ll also have lovely flowers that enhance your arbor, trellis or pergola alongside of the roses.
Orange or red cherry tomatoes that climb up and over an arbor or trellis will look great up against purple or blue flowers such as clematis or morning glory. Add in some cucumbers to climb that arbor or trellis and enjoy the backdrop that forms against the various colors and patterns. You’ll have different flowers interspersed among the greenery and parts of it will be edible.
At the base of your arbor or trellis you can plant marigolds (which are ideal for salads) and you can add in some petunias or pansies as well. These can readily round out the look and give your yard some pretty additions.
Use lettuces, parsley and mesclun salad mixes as a border with some lovely tulips and irises as a backdrop for your flower bed. Don’t forget to plant some asparagus and radishes in among the flowers as well. You’ll have a variety of greenery that all lend themselves well to your garden and you’ll be able to eat major parts of your flower bed.
Consider some gold and green zucchini with red and purple basil up against some yellow daffodils and irises. You’ll break up the color monotony and be able to eat parts of this as well. Strawberry plants develop runners that work well as either ground cover, or in hanging planters or climbing up a trellis. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you set your mind to it. Intersperse colors and create unique one of a kind designs.
Fennel can grow into a bush like plant and will look great as a focal point for a larger flower bed that has other smaller plants as the border. Add in some carrots that have fern like fronds on top of the ground and some runner beans such as purple or red interspersed between the other plants. Runner plants work very well as ground covers and will yield a large amount of fruits and vegetables.
One of the best years for tomatoes for me was when I was scarce on space and threw two tomato plants up against the south side of the house. I had the largest tomatoes I’ve ever seen that year. I staked the plants up against the house and I didn’t even fertilize them. They were huge. Everyone commented on them and those two tomato plants kept us in more than enough tomatoes all year long. The heat from the house and the protection from the weather were ideal growing conditions.
Plant a Tea Garden
Consider a “tea” garden on one side of the house. Here you can plant taller plants like mint and lavender in the back closest to the house, and gradually add in shorter plants like chamomile toward the front of the flower bed. Try planting some bee balm (these are medium to tall so plant them accordingly), the flowers are delicious and the leaves will remind you of Earl Gray tea leaves. Lemon Verbena is a delicious tea as well.
You can also dry these plants for tea later on in the season. Just lay them out on some newsprint and allow them to dry. Save them in a jar that is labeled and you’ll have fresh herbs for herbal tea whenever desired.
You’ll have flowers blooming almost all summer long and it will look and smell fabulous. This could be near a patio or balcony and you can then enjoy a nice mug of tea out there overlooking your tea garden. It’s an ideal way to find some relaxation and enjoy your garden.
Trees and Shrubs
Instead of planting shade trees that only offer shade, consider planting some fruit trees that offer both shade and fruit. Apple trees, plum trees, peach or pear trees and even cherry trees can all lend a lovely amount of shade to your yard while being edible. It will take from three to five years for the trees to begin to produce fruit, but in that time you’ll be able to well establish the trees and you’ll be getting some shade to some areas of your home.
Add in some raspberry “hedges” or blackberry “hedges” and you’re sure to have a privacy fence that is also edible. Imagine all that jam in the fall months. It’s going to be delicious on your toast and you’ll have a lovely yard to boot.
Blueberries are ideal in a flower bed, near a patio, or planted in among other bush type plants including roses. They’ll flower and then produce a multitude of berries that can be used in cooking, jam, or just to nibble on as a snack.
Plant some berries up against the house as well. You can use the strawberries as ground cover and raspberries or blackberries as a hedge or to fill in a flower bed on sides of the house. You’ll have plenty of berries for jams and jellies or just to eat.
Do’s And Don’ts
When it comes to edible flowers and plants you’ll want to remember a few do’s and don’ts. This can prevent you from accidentally poisoning yourself. There are many great plants out there that people don’t realize are edible. However, when in doubt, take the time to look up the plant you’re considering ingesting, it just may save your life.
If you must use a pesticide on your edible landscaping garden, make sure that it’s an organic pesticide that you can easily wash off of your plants so that you don’t ingest a poison.
Always wash the flower petals and leaves prior to eating them.
Start with small amounts of flowers in your salads so you don’t upset your digestive system. You may even wish to stick with just one kind until you determine which ones you prefer. You can sample the flowers before you incorporate them in your salad. Some flower petals are sweet, others are spicy and some are very subtle and taste just like the flower smells.
Never eat the pistils or stamens from the flowers.
To avoid wilted flowers, remove the petals from the rest of the flower just before eating. You could store your fresh picked flowers in a vase of water after you pick them and then when you’re ready to make dinner you can quickly rinse them and take them from the main part of the flower. This will give you the freshest flowers possible.
If you have seasonal allergies, make sure that you’re not eating any of the particular flowers that you’re allergic to.
Pick edible flowers first thing in the morning and always shake them out to remove any bugs.
Keep in mind that when considering edible landscaping, window boxes add a lovely allure to your home. Here you can plant some lettuces and spinach, some trailing plants to hang down from your window boxes, and some ground cover type plants as well.
Radishes do very well in a window box. They don’t require more than six to 12 inches of soil and will be ready to eat in no time. You can replant these every few weeks to keep them coming up and there are several different varieties that you can choose from.
Many people want the lovely window boxes that are overflowing with gorgeous flowers. There are two schools of thought on planting the flower boxes. You can either fill them in full and allow them to settle in or you can plant sparsely and allow them to fill the window box out. Both ways work and you’re sure to find a happy medium that you prefer.
Herbs lend themselves very well to window boxes and will look lovely underneath of your kitchen or dining room windows. Make sure that you have adequate drainage for your window boxes so that the roots aren’t rotting in the planter, this would damage your crop and ruin it.
You’ll need to make sure that your window boxes are getting plenty of water as well. In the hot summer months you may have to water them two to three times per day.
Edible landscaping isn’t a new concept. It’s been around for years. Modern city dwellers often have window boxes or small raised garden beds that they use for their fresh vegetables. You’re at an advantage when you have a homestead and can plant your edibles into your regular landscaping.
From fruit trees for both shade and fruit to berry hedges to walnut trees and herb gardens right outside of your kitchen or dining room door you’re sure to appreciate all of the easy maintenance of your edible landscaping. Once you get it well established you’re likely to have minimal effort to maintain it. Just pick your produce when it’s ready and make sure that your landscaping is getting plenty of water and nourishment and you’ll be rewarded with a delicious array of fresh fruits and vegetables from which to choose.
Be sure that you’re drying, canning, making jams and jellies and otherwise preserving your harvest for the cold winter months when your edible landscaping isn’t going to be producing anything. You’ll enjoy your harvest all year long this way.
At the end of the season be sure to pull out the annuals that you’ll have to replant each year. Your perennials will return year after year. Replant in the early spring as soon as the plants are able to be planted and you’ll be rewarded with fresh greens and fruits and vegetables from the start.
An edible garden is a great way to save on space in and around the homestead, and a great way to make your home and yard look lovely. Your neighbors are going to be asking you how they too can have such great landscaping.