Creating an edible landscape

Cabbage, part of an edible landscape, is used in a border.

Cabbage, part of an edible landscape, is used in a border.

Extreme drought in the West draws attention to what a precious resource water is. Of all the water on Earth, only a small amount is available for us to use. Since 97 percent is saltwater, there is only three percent fresh water for the world to survive on. Of that, slightly over two percent is stuck in glaciers and icecaps. Yet, even with such a small percentage of fresh water available, we put 50 percent of our home water into our landscapes, often wasting about 50 percent of that by applying it ineffectively or unnecessarily.

We feed and water lawns, making them grow vigorously. Then we mow them weekly and throw away the clippings. We use our most valuable resource on plants that do little more than please the eye. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider our landscaping practices and incorporate quantities of edible plants into our overall design.

How edible plants can be included in a landscape will depend on whether they are perennial, annual, trees, shrubs or herbs. Perennial plants such as rhubarb and asparagus come back each year providing bounty and beauty with very little work. Annual cold-tolerant leafy crops, such as kale, chard and lettuce, might be combined in a flower bed to provide colorful edible leaves in a beautiful border or grouping. Everyone’s favorite annual, the tomato, could be trellised as a backdrop in a sunny bed. Some edibles bloom early. Chives with their deep blue-purple flowers is a lovely early edible bloomer. Those with fruit late in the season provide fall interest.

Fruit trees could replace smaller shade trees. Rather than having a flowering, non-fruiting plum or pear, why not have fruiting trees? Dwarf apples, pears or peaches can be integrated as large shrubs. Their blooms are heavenly in the spring. Grapes and kiwis are delightful vines. Fresh raspberries or blackberries can’t be beat either and make a good barrier hedge.

Try removing some lawn and replacing it with creeping thyme or strawberries. Or, when you take out some of that turf, build yourself an herb garden filled with oregano, parsley, cilantro, dill and other delectable herbs.

Edible plants and non-edible flowers are a perfect combination. The flowers attract the bees and other pollinators for good fruit and vegetable development. A landscape can be functional, beautiful, water-wise and delicious.

Our April 21 class is Wine and Beer Making, and April 23 is Fruit Trees. Both are at Cooperative Extension from 6 to 8 p.m. Call 775-887-2252.

JoAnne Skelly is an extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 775-887-2252.


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