Edible Gardening

The Foodscape Revolution

“Garden to Table” is the best way to describe my passion for adding purpose to landscapes in suburban neighborhoods, office parks, school campuses, and retirement communities. With my education in design, an enthusiasm for ornamental horticulture, and a hunger for local, organically raised produce, I see that there is the potential to grow food in every cultivated space. In fact, according to extension service data, there are about 190 million acres that could be utilized in the suburbs alone.

Preston Montague drawing

Drawing courtesy of Preston Montague

Foodscaping is simply the integration of edibles into a traditional ornamental landscape. This design strategy is meant to empower home growers, landscapers and professional gardeners by connecting sustainable food production to the everyday landscape. Edibles enhance landscapes by providing a unique seasonal component with a multitude of health and economic benefits.

Landscapes that present nutritional, ecological and aesthetic value meet the needs of the modern day American. I am not only referring to millennials but also baby boomers like my parents who are retiring and downsizing. They are approaching the landscape with a different sensibility and have a desire to make the most of less square footage. They are steering away from large lawns, high maintenance hedges and spray regiments. What they are looking for now is “garden-landscape fusion” with fresh tomatoes alongside the boxwood hedge and a ground cover of salad greens adjacent to the Knock Out rose.

I began my first foodscape ten years ago when I purchased a home in Fuquay-Varina, NC. The truth is I couldn’t afford lumber to build raised beds and fill them with yards of purchased compost. I was a single woman earning my living as a plant propagator and money was really tight. Determined to grow food, I used the foundation landscape that already existed to cultivate seasonal, edible plants. What I discovered was a harmonious marriage of aesthetic and practical qualities. I was hooked on growing food within finely designed spaces and ambitious to meet the criteria of HOA landscape committees. Now, a decade later, every landscape represents the possibility of food production.

Many homeowners believe property values will go down with a rogue farmer on the cul de sac, hence the many restrictive HOA covenants. It is important to recognize that foodscapes are not meant to be farms. Rather, the goal of a foodscape is to cultivate supplemental amounts of produce while meeting the aesthetic standards of the surrounding community.

Foodscaping isn’t about living off the grid: rather it is the practical integration of edibles in an existing ornamental landscape. It is the opposite of a farm and utilizes tiny spaces within each landscape to produce percentages of food.

Organic growing techniques are combined with traditional maintenance practices of mulching and edging to keep the space looking clean and tidy. Beds are designed in a way to best utilize the natural resources of water flow and seasonal crops are rotated to enhance the ornamentals. A bio-diverse range of plants is selected to increase populations of beneficial pollinators and wildlife.

The essence of a foodscape comes from the supplemental produce that engages people in a unique capacity: a ripe tomato hanging within the hydrangea, peppers woven within pink muhly grass, amber waves of grain sweeping as a purposeful ornamental grass. These unexpected combinations serve to enhance the experience of the passerby while raising awareness of how food grows.

Consider adding fruit and nut trees to your landscape, which offer yearly harvests while providing shade. Herbaceous perennials such as asparagus and strawberries provide seasonal bounty and textural contrast. Herbs like oregano, rosemary and thyme are low maintenance plants that add high culinary impact. The inclusion of flashy annual crops like tomatoes, peppers, kale and chard will add brilliant colors that blend beauty and abundant harvest.

I am proud to see plants being recognized for all of the attributes they represent: beauty, ecology, health, wellness, nutrition and lifestyle. Foodscaping is a design technique that embraces the heritage of home gardening while developing a new level of sophistication for modern day living.

Professionally designed and maintained foodscapes are my hope for the future of American landscapes. The sun, soil and irrigation systems of common landscaped spaces in suburban developments, corporate campuses, retirement homes, and schools can be harnessed to produce supplemental, affordable food for communities. Raising awareness, appreciation and understanding of landscaped food systems will help facilitate a change in the design and management of public green spaces. Someday the landscape industry will be linked to diversified, sustainable, ecologically focused food production.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Brie’s foodscaping on our podcast “Grains for Your Garden” at www.TriangleGardener.com.

Featured image courtesy of Brie Arthur.

Brie Arthur is a Green Industry Communicator and Foodscape Designer in Raleigh, N.C. Check out her work at www.BrieGrows.com.