By Carrie Baysek
Last spring, while I wobbled around pregnant, my husband and I came up with a huge list of projects to complete in and around our newly constructed home before the baby arrived. The project that most excited me was building raised beds for my vegetable garden. I had grand notions of being home from work on maternity leave with my newborn, and having tons of free time to spend in my awesome garden while butterflies fluttered around my peacefully napping baby.
Well, you can probably guess what happened next ... the baby came and two months flew by in a blur of diapers and burp cloths. When I looked at a calendar it was already June, and not one shovelful of soil had been dug. With a three-month growing season (if we’re lucky to have a frost-free summer), I needed to plant something, and quick! Realizing I didn’t have time for the garden of my dreams, I surveyed my yard for spots where I could easily slide in something that would produce edibles.
I always plant containers of colorful annuals on my porch, so I decided to throw some veggies and herbs into the mix. I didn’t have to dig any holes, and I already had the potting soil. With baby in tow, the containers took only five minutes to water each day. I could walk out my front door and harvest kale for many weeks, and we had delicious cherry tomatoes in our salads the whole month of August. If it happened to threaten frost in July, I could easily move my portable garden inside for the night.
The concept of edible landscaping has its roots in the war effort during World War II, when citizens were encouraged to rip out their lawns and grow food for themselves and the troops. Throughout the war Americans planted an estimated twenty million “victory gardens” and produced up to 40 percent of the produce consumed nationally.
As the local food movement grows, edible landscaping is enjoying a comeback. It’s especially strong in urban areas, where it’s referred to as the “Eat Your Yard Movement.” Creative gardeners have converted rooftops, abandoned lots, and patios into lush green spaces, or have simply replaced their little piece of front lawn with a vegetable garden.
Whether your goal is eating healthier, saving money, supporting wildlife, conserving water, bird-watching, or all of the above, turning your yard into an edible Eden is not just smart—it’s fun. Be sure to get your kids involved—the best way is to give them their own space to tend and let them choose what they plant. Not only will they learn about where food comes from, they’ll be more likely to try new foods.
Guidelines for Edible Landscaping
Plant near where you eat and hang out
• It’s so much easier to water and harvest your edibles if they are close to your kitchen, grill, or outdoor living area. You will notice bugs and weeds quicker and be able to take care of them before they get out of hand. An herb garden next to the grill will assure you use the herbs, and you can show off the fruits of your labor when guests come over for dinner.
• Vegetable gardens planted in rows and hidden way in the backyard suck up a lot of water, and the exposed soil is more prone to weeds. Instead, try to incorporate your edibles into existing perennial beds as borders, in containers on the porch, or in small raised beds near the kitchen or front porch, or even along a driveway. The same idea goes for edible trees and shrubs; they can be incorporated into foundation planting around the house or in berms or gardens nearby.
Choose plants that have personality
• All plants are beautiful in some way, even if they don’t bloom. I am a big fan of colorful large-leafed plants such as purple sage, Swiss chard, purple kale, and red cabbage, which provide vibrant color all season long. Sungold tomatoes provide an unexpected yellow in both the garden and your salads, and Pixwell gooseberries are a neat chartreuse green and easy to pick. If you are up for trying new things, purple beans and blue potatoes are fun for kids to both harvest and eat.
• Another characteristic for landscaping is shape. Plants can be many different shapes—upright like rosemary, round like crabapples, or airy like dill. Plants with wonderful textures that add highlights to a landscape include rhubarb, currant, nasturtium, curled parsley, and leafy kale.
Select hardy trees, shrubs, and perennials
• Purchasing these bigger ticket items is a significant investment, so make sure they have a chance of surviving. The Tetons are a very dynamic place to garden, to say the least. Depending on where you live in the area, the USDA hardiness zone can be anywhere between zone 2 and 4. People who live at the mouth of canyons or in protected valleys can usually grow more varieties of plants than, say, those residing along the Teton River or out in the windy, exposed dry farms. You might even find you have a little microclimate within your own yard where plants do better because of sun exposure or protection from the wind, or because it gets a few degrees warmer since it’s near a fence or wall. Do some research, ask questions at your local garden center, and take notice of what your neighbor is growing well.
Know how to care for tender annual plants like vegetables, blooming plants, and certain herbs
• With temperatures that can dip below freezing even in July, the frost can kill your plants when you least expect it. Pay attention to the weather and be ready to cover your tender plants with frost cloth; or, if they are in containers, bring them indoors for the evening. Take some time to learn about using season extenders (see Judy Allen’s article on this topic in our Winter 2012 issue or online at tetonfamilymagazine.com).
Every garden is different. My best advice is to start small and learn from your mistakes, before you expand. Be patient, enjoy your time outdoors, and eat well!
Best Bets for the Tetons
Rhubarb: Cherry Crimson
Strawberry: Fort Laramie and Quinalt
Lettuce: Red Leaf, Mesclun Mix, Buttercrunch
Sugar Snap Peas
Tomatoes: Sweet 100, Sungold, Viola
Currant: Golden, Red Lake
Raspberry: Canby Red
Crabapple: Dolgo, Hopa, Kelsey
Apple: Goodland, Haralson, Sweet Sixteen
Plum: Toka, Newport, Waneta
Sour Cherry: Bali, Montmorency