Edible landscaping can be an easy way to grow food in the front yard. Learn some strategies for designing a beautiful, low-maintenance edible landscape.
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Why Landscape with Edibles?
Simply put: We can’t eat lawn. When I found out that lawn is the largest crop in the United States—and realized how abundant it is in the suburbs—I decided to give my yard a makeover!
With less than 2% of the American population farming (some sources say less than 1%), the suburbs are primed to lead the up-and-coming small “farm” movement.
Many suburbanites spend their weekends maintaining a traditional lawn and landscape. However, I believe they’re missing out on an opportunity to have life-giving landscape that provides beauty, ecological benefits, and edible yields.
Although I have a particular fondness for a productive landscape, I also enjoy a beautiful one that attracts beneficial insects and is friendly to wildlife.
Edible landscaping is a softer, gentler approach that combines traditional landscaping with micro-farming techniques, and is both aesthetically pleasing and ecologically friendly.
Landscaping with Intention
My edible front yard is an intentional landscape. While developing and maintaining a lawn is relatively mind-numbing (not to mention potentially polluting), I’ve found that I’m more alive and engaged with the edible landscape.
For example, when the strawberries, cherries, or black raspberries ripen, it’s an exciting moment! Nothing in a traditional landscape is that exciting.
An edible landscape gave me a reason to interact with my neighbors. While the usual dog walker or passerby will exchange niceties about the weather, the edible landscape gave us something interesting to talk about.
The book Edible Estates is a fantastic picture book of lawns across the U.S. that were replaced with a productive landscape. The book also explores the social aspects of having a productive front yard and the subsequent interactions with neighbors.
Rosalind Creasy, author of Edible Landscaping, is the modern pioneer of the movement, yet landscaped gardens containing edibles have been the norm throughout history from English cottage gardens all the way back to ancient Persia. Edibles truly make supremely beautiful landscapes.
My Edible Front Yard
After much trial and error, my beautiful, edible front yard now contains currant bushes, black raspberries, strawberries, cherry trees, and a variety of edible herbs and flowers.
Below is a picture of our house before we purchased it, and after turning it into an edible landscape.
Take a (virtual) tour of both my front and backyard edible landscapes.
3 Things to Consider before Breaking Ground in the Edible Landscape
—Deer, Kids, and Dogs
What do they have in common? They all take the most direct path from point A to point B. If garden beds are easy to step in or walk through, then they probably will be by this bunch! Create diversions and obstacles that direct traffic away from prized plants.
When I planted edibles in the parking strip (between the sidewalk and street), I planned accordingly for the steady stream of traffic by dog walkers, kids on bikes, and parked-car passengers.
How much time do you have to commit to maintenance? Replacing lawn with an edible landscape could require more time to keep tidy. If time is not on your side, then consider only replacing the existing landscape with edibles while leaving the lawn intact.
Take it from me: Annual plants need more attention than perennials to retain an aesthetic appeal. When I began my edible landscape journey, I had no idea how much time I would need to keep the annual vegetables looking tidy and weed free!
Have a plan to fill the space after each harvest, or you’ll risk having empty spots. This is ultimately why I transitioned the edible front yard to contain mostly perennials.
Would you like to grow food in your front yard without sacrificing curb appeal? Check out my mini guide, The Permaculture Inspired Edible Landscape.
A long-term landscape will be made up of mostly perennials, but a whole-yard makeover with perennials could be expensive. If you don’t mind bare ground for a while, starting plants from seeds or free cuttings will be much cheaper.
I built my landscape over several years to spread out the cost of buying plants. I also used fast-growing annuals to fill in the spaces until perennials reached their mature size.
4 Design Principles for Visual Appeal in the Edible Landscape
In any landscape, a simple foundation planting creates balance. Luckily, it’s easy to replace a traditional hedge with an edible one.
For example, I replaced the traditional hedge of yew bushes lining my front porch with currant bushes. Balance remained in the landscape even though I changed the plant species.
While the currant bushes were young, I grew a “hedge” of broccoli to fill the space!
A line defines a space and connects people to the landscape. The line could be a curved walkway or a straight sidewalk along the edge of the garden—anywhere our eyes are drawn to follow a line or edge.
I used a rock border to define a curved raised bed from the remaining lawn, and it was a focal point that received a lot of compliments.
A unified grouping of plants creates order and attracts attention from both humans and beneficial insects. Group plants of the same type together rather than alternating them with other colors or textures.
I planted the flower garden with groups of bold colors as a backdrop to the edibles.
Read more about unity in the landscape.
A specimen tree creates a focal point. Instead of a Japanese maple, dogwood, or other common specimen tree, try a fruit tree instead. Lee Reich has some great ideas in his book Landscaping with Fruit.
Don’t worry, I didn’t know any of these principles when I got started. I learned them over time after many trowels and errors. 🙂
Plant An Edible Foundation
A foundation planting simply hugs the foundation of the house. Red and black currant bushes line my front porch because they’re shade tolerant and easy to grow. Additionally, they produce beautiful fruits (red currants) or a pleasant fragrance when brushed against (black currants). Learn how to grow and use currant bushes.
I also planted black raspberries, which are easy to grow underneath the front windows because they’re shade tolerant and have a clumping habit (they won’t “walk” around the yard as much as other bramble berries). They’re also relatively easy to prune.
The red canes add color to the landscape in winter, the flowers bless the spring landscape, and the changing red-to-purple berries add beauty in early summer.
Other edible plants for foundation hedges: Try bush cherry, gooseberry, or rugosa rose, all of which can be pruned for tidiness. Aronia is considered a superfood berry and lovely, as well.
Hint: Many of these shrubs have made their way into my jelly garden, too!
Strawberries in the Edible Landscape
Here’s what I’ve learned about strawberries: pretty much everyone loves them. They’re shareable and bring a smile to kids and neighbors alike.
I grow strawberries with flowering chives in my front yard because they’re extremely productive, don’t take up a lot of space, and make a nice ground cover.
Additionally, their deep roots can stabilize the slope and slow drainage, which is why I planted them in the berm that slows rainwater coming from the roof.
In the edible landscape though, be wary: June-bearing strawberries create runners that “jump” out of the bed and “walk” away to plant themselves in pathways and other areas where you don’t want them.
Suddenly, the beautiful strawberry bed looks sparse. After a few years the bed will look empty. June-bearing plants are usually replaced every three years.
Instead, I prefer to plant ‘Seascape’ everbearing strawberries. Everbearing strawberries don’t produce as many runners, and I’ve found them to be much better for the edible landscape where I want plants to stay in their place permanently.
Many everbearing varieties are almost as large—and just as delicious—as June-bearing strawberries. The front yard strawberry patch yields about 15 pounds berries each year!
Living in suburban or urban environments, sometimes we need to create a little buffer for privacy. Edible plants can help create a living screen that will last longer than a fence and create more biodiversity.
I planted dwarf cherry trees in my parking strip because their dense foliage created a seasonal, soft buffer between the street and front yard. This made it more enjoyable to sit on the front porch and admire the beauty.
In early spring, the white flowers add a cheerful beauty, while the bright red fruit looks like Christmas tree ornaments in early summer. But that’s not all! The glossy, peeling bark even offers interest in the winter.
I planted my cherry trees as fruit tree guilds, which is a strategy to increase biodiversity and prevent pest problems.
Vegetables in the Edible Landscape
Growing vegetables can be tricky in the edible landscape because of their seasonal nature.
For example, one year I planted garlic in the front yard rain garden, and it was beautiful. I harvested it halfway through June. Then, I sowed winter squash seeds. I imagined the crop developing into a beautiful ground cover. However, multiple sowings never took hold.
This bed in the center of the front yard remained empty all season.
Root vegetables, which sometimes have trouble germinating in the summer heat, can also create problems in the edible landscape.
Suddenly it’s not only a question of whether I’ll get a harvest, but also how to quickly fill a bare spot. Because of this, I avoid single-harvest crops such as root vegetables altogether in the edible landscape.
Instead, I only plant vegetables in which the fruit or leaf is harvested, because the plant itself remains intact and continues to produce throughout the season.
A few examples are cherry tomatoes and peppers—both reliable in the edible landscape—as are cut-and-come-again leafy greens like Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens.
In fact, two of my favorite vegetable combinations are Swiss chard with sweet alyssum and kale with Johnny jump-ups.
Vegetable Color Schemes in the Edible Landscape
I’ve enjoyed giving my edible front yard an annual color scheme. Here are some of the themes I’ve used. Mix and match, too!
Purple: Red Russian kale, ‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplant, ‘Purple Beauty’ bell pepper, chives
Yellow: yellow chard, yellow bell peppers, yellow cherry tomatoes, yellow California poppies, calendula, sunflowers
White: garlic chives, oregano, sweet alyssum (whites mix well with other colors)
Red: cherry tomatoes, cayenne peppers, red chard, red California poppies, nasturtium
Green: basil, broccoli, kale, collards, parsley, sweet potato, zucchini
Many of these are some of my favorite flowers for the vegetable garden, as well!
Herbs and Flowers in the Edible Landscape
Herbs and flowers are among the easiest additions to the edible landscape. By simply replacing an ornamental flower garden with edible herbs and flowers, you can have beauty and function, too!
My favorite combos: dill with cosmos, bronze fennel with chamomile, green basil pairs well with most flowers
Herbs for fragrance: chamomile, lavender, sage, lemon balm, rose (plant these along a walkway)
Edible flowers: anise hyssop, calendula, chives, elderberry, lavender, johnny jump-ups, nasturtium, runner beans (attract pollinators, too!)
Deer Resistant Edibles
Sadly, there aren’t as many options for the edible landscaper in deer country. Tall deer fencing around the landscape negates the aesthetic appeal. However, the following are a few plants to try.
With deer I prefer to landscape using perennials because sometimes annual “deer resistant” vegetables will suddenly become attractive to them for no apparent reason!
Take note that none of these deer resistant edibles are deer proof and should be protected, especially when young.
Deer resistant perennials: asparagus, fig, goumi, rhubarb, pawpaw
Deer resistant culinary herbs: chives, dill, fennel, lavender, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme
In addition to being deer resistant, many of these make my short list of favorite herbs for the medicine garden.
Deer resistant vegetables: cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes (Plant these at your own risk!)
To learn about creating a deer-deflecting hedge, check out Gaia’s Garden.
An edible landscape is a fulfilling project that will increase your yard’s productivity, biodiversity, and aesthetic appeal.
What edible landscape combinations are your favorites?
Great post, and awesome before/after photos!
Ricki @ The Questionable Homesteader says
Your garden is beautiful and I love that you not only get to eat it but that it has helped you to become more familiar with your neighbors. I also really appreciate the tip on not planting single use veggies, I most likely would have and been left (like you where) with a bare spot for the rest of the season.
Thanks for sharing.
I’m so glad the tip on single-harvest veggies was useful! It seems so logical to not plant them in a low-maintenance edible landscape, but I had to have a ‘duh’ moment to realize it 🙂
Anna @ NorthernHomestead says
Love your rock border. WE have one too, but i used mostly bigger rocks. But then sometimes I did run out of bigger and used smaller. I like your idea of having them in two rows. Pinning!
Thanks, Anna! I love the bigger rocks and might have used them if I were to do this over again!
I’m your latest fan. So pleased to have stumbled across your delightful blog. Thank you for sharing all the wonderful pictures and helpful information. When it comes to gardening, edible landscaping and permaculture are two of my favorite interests. And I must mention I was born and raised in Cincinnati. Knew immediately there was something I liked about you! 😉 Thanks again!
I guess there’s something special about us Cincinnati folk 🙂 I’m glad you found me and thanks for following along!
Amy, these are amazing tips and photos! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience.
Thanks, Tessa 🙂
I simply adore this idea. So beautiful. I have a smaller version of an edible landscape but living in Florida. I am sharing this!
I can see how an edible landscape in Florida might be a bit different. I’m sure it’s charming 🙂
This is such a great post. We ripped out large portions of our front lawn and replaced it with edibles a few years ago and I ran into the same problem as you. I had no idea how much work annual veggies would take to keep the beds attractive. We have nearly all perennials now.
I had to laugh a few weeks ago, when our neighbor was working on selling their home. She complained that they were only now able to sell it because the previous owner of our home had “tomatoes and all sorts of vegetable garden plants right there in the front lawn!”
I wanted to point out our runner beans, arugula, sorrel, cherry bushes, apple and plum trees, but I bit my tongue and laughed about it later.
It just goes to show that edibles can be just as beautiful as an ornamental!
I love this story – your edible landscape is obviously amazing! Thanks for sharing, it gave me a smile 🙂
I just love this idea. I think it’d be really great if more people had the same ideas as you! Lawn is so boring and takes so much water to keep nice and green. Here in SE Montana it’s starting to get dry and brown. I’d much rather see a lively edible garden out my window and use the water on that!
Stacey Summitt-Mann says
Thanks for this great post! I just love your blog and have been doing a lot of back-reading. I have a beautiful serviceberry tree in the backyard, and want to add plants under it. I love the look of the spiral around a tree. Soil conditions are heavier clay, protected by wind, and sun ~6-7 hours in the spring, though dappled at times. Do you have suggestions?
Great question. I like to underplant my fruit-bearing trees with plants that are not only beautiful, but also provide fertilizer, attract beneficial insects, and deter pests. Some examples are bee balm, borage, comfrey, garlic chives, oregano, white clover, and yarrow.
Combining herbs and trees in this way can be called a guild. You might like to read about my cherry tree guild.
Best wishes, and let me know what you try 🙂
Thanks! I was looking to transplant bee balm and yarrow, so that will be perfect. I also have horseradish, which I think would work well? Any concerns with dogs in the yard? Is there an appropriate method to the spiral around a tree or is it mainly aesthetics?
The “spiral” around the tree is called the drip line. It marks the mature size of a tree, and the area inside which the tree leaves will “drip” after a rain. Tree roots are expected to reach as wide as the drip line, and in most cases, they probably reach even further. Keeping this area free of grass will reduce competition with the tree roots for nutrients. Planting other beneficial plants underneath the tree will help the tree grow.
I don’t have experience with growing horseradish under trees, but it does have a tendency to spread, so be sure you like where you plant it and have a plan to contain it.
For dogs you won’t want to plant anything edible under the trees unless you fence it off. If your dog is a chewer, you might look into common garden plants that are toxic to dogs and be sure to fence those off if you grow any of them. Comfrey, for example, is excellent to plant under fruit trees, but if eaten in excess can be toxic to dogs.
Robin Stewart says
HI! Love it!! You have done a beautiful job!! I also do edible landscaping like this. I am doing a presentation to the local garden club. Do you mind if I use some of your pictures? The arrows are very helpful!
This will be my fourth year. I am planning to expand to the back yard this summer with larger trees and shrubs. I know what you are talking about regarding meeting people walking by. I’ve even stopped traffic!! People get upset about city ordinances or HOAs but if you do it beautifully no one complains. (especially if you share strawberries!)
You asked about favorite combinations.
I like using less familiar veggies in this design, they are less identifiable and I love the surprised look when I tell them that about 80% is food! I also like obelisks for beans or cucumbers. Okra blossoms are stunning. I did learn not to plant broccoli too near the birdfeeder. I like purple iris and chive blossoms in the same area. They bloom at the same time. My currant bush was LOADED last year. I hope she does that again! My coneflowers near the strawberries and are nice. I have a beautiful Ragusa Rose that gets one beautiful flush of flowers before the Japanese beetle battle begins. I made some rose sugar with the petals. Lemonade with rose sugar is amazing. Lavender too! Celery provides green and structure and you don’t have a bear spot. I just go out and cut off what I need. Same with lettuces, swiss chard, or collard greens. I planted carrots under the collards last year. I like garlic chives in front of daisies. Lemon grass likes quite a bit of water so I planted it next to the rain chain. Parsley reseeds like mad. I will likely not ever replant parsley. Nor chamomile, oregano, mint, or thyme. My grandfather had a rhubarb farm and I have some of them. They are priceless to me.
Hope I’m not rambling too much. I just love gardening this way! I could spend morning till night ‘working’ is the garden. So nice to “meet” you. Can’t wait for the newsletter!
Your yard sounds stunning! I had always intended to add obelisks to my front yard but then I had a spending freeze on the gardening budget, LOL. Great idea to put the lemon grass next to the rain chain.
Thanks for stopping by! You’re welcome to use my pictures with attribution 🙂
What an amazing transformation! I love the idea of combining dill and cosmos, not to mention the chard and alyssum. I also plan to prepare the front yard this year for a major redesign. If I were to buy only one edible landscaping design book (I am on a tight budget), what would you recommend?
PS. Looking forward for your next informative newsletter each time 🙂
Oh, boy: ONE book? That’s a toughie, but if I could only pick just one…The Edible Front Yard.
Thank you so much for your recommendation! The Edible Front Yard has just made it to the top of my list 🙂
I love this post, that you’ve taken what you do have and made it beautiful to the eye and beneficial for the health! We are hoping to buy land in the next few years and I would love to have a herb garden like this outside the kitchen door…instead of lawn. Will be looking at more of your writings!
Thank you for sharing your story. Just an FYI, though, all grass is edible. It may not bring you as much joy, but yes, you can eat your lawn.
Good morning Amy and the USA?!
I loved this posting – so interesting and so obvious when you ‘wake-up’ to edible gardens.
Also, loved the spelling mistake from one fan….”bear” patches!!!
What with children, dogs, deer and now BEARS, you sure have your sustainability work cut out!
Off to rip out my lawn now (only kidding) here in Wiltshire, England. Thank you.
Love this! I had read several articles where homeowners were planting gardens in the front yard and getting sited by the homeowners or civic association because they were eyesores. I think if they looked like yours they wouldn’t have been in trouble 😉
Someday, I will have a house where I can garden; settling for a few pots on the patio and the patch of yard in front (fortunately the apt. manager doesn’t mind as long as you don’t dig up anything).
this is what i`m struggling with right now – creating a garden. but my biggest problem is pets – one of my dogs is something between a tornado and a bulldozer. also it`s a ‘he’ so he pees absolutely on everything. i guess i`ll have to put most of my plants in really high raised beds – although my cats jump into everything and consider it a wonderful new toilet… but i`m trying! i love the idea of having plants that are not only beautiful – but they can also feed me (without pesticides and other chemicals).
Wow wow wow! I’m ready to rip out and replace my front yard to do this! Beautiful, functional, fun. Question for you: do you find it hard to keep up with harvesting everything when you have this much? Do you let some stuff go to seed?
I wouldn’t recommend ripping out the entire front yard all at once. I didn’t. I replaced bits and pieces at a time, as I found time and felt confident in managing more. I don’t plant alot of vegetables in the front, so there isn’t much that can go to seed except flowers.
This sounds like a great idea, but I would have to do it in bits and pieces as well. Also, putting any kind of berry in the front would definitely not work. I have to protect my currents, raspberries, and strawberries from the birds, which would not exactly be the best for curb appeal……lol.