Feed A Family

In a cookie-cutter Cleveland, Ohio, suburb back in the 1960s, Ruth Hrubo was gardening on a small plot and growing spaghetti squash among the yews of her front-foundation plantings.

A beautiful–and edible–backyard garden. Photo Courtesy Of Linda K. Schneider

For a while, the young squash plants hugged the perimeter of the house. However, as the normal tendency to “vine” took over, these big-leaved monsters spread onto the walkway by the front door. Her three teenage daughters were appalled. “What will the neighbors think?”

As it turns out, Hrubo was a garden initiator in the edible-landscaping trend. With her organic-farming background and frugal nature acquired during the Depression and World War II, her life experience gave her an ingrained understanding of the importance of growing her own food.

She used every available space and saw no limit to what could grow in a small, fertile plot of soil.

In her gardens, herbs grew next to perennials; parsley and sage took advantage of early morning light adjacent to the massive perennial Bleeding Heart that welcomed visitors to her door.

Along the Arborvitae row, garlic bulbs were planted for cooking as well as acting to keep neighbors’ dogs away from tender, young bushes.

Skip ahead to this decade, and everyone is talking about edible landscaping–the ability to grow plants as food–on any size property. Plants such as vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, herbs, and edible flowers qualify.

An apple orchard, grape arbor, or kitchen garden for herbs, salad greens, and colorful vegetables might have their own space or can be mixed into existing perennial beds.

As grocery-store prices soar, the quality and flavor of produce drop. Organics are on the rise each year. People want control of their food source, especially wanting to know that few or no chemicals have been used.

Modern-day solutions include edible landscaping, home gardens, community garden plots, community-support agriculture (buying from a local farm), and farmers’ markets, where growers answer questions about the processes used on their individual farms.

One of the promoters of positive solutions to today’s food dilemmas is Roger Swain, who holds a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard, and is the former host of The Victory Garden, PBS’s longest-running gardening show. He speaks of historical victory gardens as a war effort, but says they are needed now more than ever to address health and well-being as well as environmental issues.

Instead of buying tired, imported, waxed vegetables from the store, he advocates a vegetable garden in every front, back, or side yard.

“Home-grown vegetables taste good, so you’ll eat them,” he says.

Professional landscape architects can be part of this grassroots movement by designing garden plans to include edible-landscaping plants. The homeowner should be allowed to take part in the design process for ultimate success. A customer’s individual likes and dislikes help to define the structure of the garden design plan.

The Basics

Once a client determines he or she wants to designate an area for an edible garden, the following should be considered to ensure a successful design:

• Improve soil by adding organic matter, such as compost, shredded leaves, and composted manure.

• Design a plan that works well for the landowner. Determine whether the client is a hands-on or low-maintenance gardener, a homebody, or someone with a heavy travel schedule.

• Plant what the customer enjoys eating.

• Integrate decorative landscape features with edible varieties of vegetables and fruits.

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