A lot of virtual ink has been spilled on the subject of survival gardening. Surprisingly, though, little has been used to address the concept of edible landscaping.
What is edible landscaping? Edible landscaping is, in simplest terms, the practice of using food-producing perennial or self-seeding plants to adorn your garden, yard or property. This form of landscaping, like all gardening, is a combination of art and science. Once established, an edible landscape can provide a continuing bounty, year after year while adding beauty to your surroundings.
How do you begin the task of establishing your edible landscape? Fruit trees are a great place to start, and should come early on since they take the longest time to become established and start producing on a meaningful scale. Fruit trees provide a host of benefits. Foremost, they can provide a large quantity of food, both for fresh consumption, juicing and drying canning, or for winter storage. From a strictly landscaping perspective, fruit trees provide shady spaces in your yard. A pair of well-placed fruit trees makes an awesome spot to hang a hammock or place a picnic table. It can also make for a great play area for the kids. Many fruit trees are very attractive, providing brilliant displays of buds and blooms as well as foliage which changes with the seasons. Being prepared need not be an austere endeavor, and having beauty in your surroundings is good for the mind and spirit, in good times or bad. Prepping can be stressful, so never underestimate the value of a good hammock!
What trees you choose will depend on your local climate. On our homestead in the Missouri Ozarks we grow apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and plumcots. We also have a variety of native trees including black walnuts, hickory nuts, mulberries and wild plum. There are other options available to us, but these trees provide a great variety of fresh fruits which mature at various times through the growing season. When we were in Florida, we grew bananas, oranges, guavas, star fruit, sea grapes, mangoes, coconuts and papayas. The point is that no matter where you live, there are fruit and nut trees that thrive in your area. Find out what grows, and start planting.
Fruit trees can be quite expensive, and are getting more so all the time. We have found that a good strategy is to wait until late fall and then look for clearance sales at local garden centers and nurseries. You may have to hold trees over for spring planting if you get them too late in the fall, but the savings can be well worth it. One year, we found blueberry bushes on sale at a local Lowe’s for 50 cents each and filled the back of the truck for twenty bucks!
The next category of plantings in edible landscaping is shrubs and bushes. Here again, the choices are many. We have used blueberry bushes to define the path from our house to our high tunnel. Goji berries and several varieties of bush cherries and currants adorn the area next to our barn. Many of our ornamental beds sport fruit bearing bushes as accents or features. We also use such shrubs and bushes as understory to highlight larger trees. Surinam cherry makes an excellent hedge and produces a lot of tart cherry-like fruit. Surinam cherry grows across many planting zones. In the spice category, rosemary is a perennial shrub that will add fresh flavor to whatever you are cooking, from potatoes to MREs! Lemon grass, although not technically a shrub, makes a nice accent planting and adds zest to soup or stir fry. The choices you make will depend on where you live, so do your homework.
Vining plants are great along fences and on arbors or pergolas. We have planted grape vines along several fences. If your area will support grapes, they are an excellent choice, great for juicing, wine making, drying or just eating! We have also planted a small pergola with a hardy variety of kiwi, and have another variety of kiwi planted along a garden fence. When we were down south, we used passion fruit along our fences, and there are cold hardy varieties of passion fruit available to thrive in many planting zones, and there are a lot of other fruiting vines as well.
The final category of edible landscaping plants is reseeding plants. We have several beds that contain various mints, oregano, catnip, lemon balm and even basil. These beds produce fresh herbs year after year, and the bees love them. All that is required is to let seeds form and drop.
Nature has provided some of our edible landscaping. Gooseberries run down our driveway, and we have added more of them along some fence lines. Blackberries and raspberries share this space and here again we have augmented what nature has provided with additional plantings. The area along the driveway also hosts many sassafras trees, good for making root beer!
Once established, your edible landscaping will provide an ongoing supply of fruits, berries and nuts. This will richly enhance the quality of your diet, in terms of vitamins, antioxidants and healthy carbohydrates. Nuts provide a valuable source of fats not always present in storage foods, and can even be pressed to extract oil for cooking and baking. Many culinary herbs will reseed, and provide flavor variety in your cooking. You can also produce an endless variety of juices, preserves, jams, jellies, sauces and even wines from the fruits of your landscaping.
Edible landscaping is, hands down, my favorite aspect of survival gardening. I love it for the variety of foods it produces, as well as for the beauty and serenity it imparts on my surroundings. Most of all, I love it because it doesn’t require weeding, tilling or annual planting. A little mulch, a little pruning, occasional watering, infrequent fertilizing, and the best part, harvesting is all that is required to maintain your edible landscape. For a lazy gardener, this method provides benefits that far outweigh the inputs, and leaves plenty of time for that hammock!