Fantastic foodscaping: interplanting for a healthy harvest, colour and texture
A beautiful garden can truly be a feast for the eyes – and with foodscaping, it can satisfy your appetite for eating your own homegrown produce too. A common misconception is that a vegetable garden is unattractive, and shouldn’t be up front and centre, so they end up being relegated to a corner somewhere in the backyard. On the contrary, so many edible plants are beautiful – and foodscaping can be done almost anywhere in the garden, even on a balcony or a roof.
#growyourown on the rise
When the Pandemic hit, people had more time at home and the only chance they had to be outside was in their own backyard, and so the number of people incorporating vegetables and herbs into their gardens grew tremendously. In this time an increasing number of people gave greater consideration to their carbon footprint. They wanted to utilise their space better, and also became more conscious of what was in the food they were eating. It’s no new concept in the African context, as in the past, most homes, whether in the suburbs or smaller properties, had one or two fruit trees as part of the garden. This is something that’s coming back in so many spaces. Agri-entrepreneurs such as Tim Abaa of Nectar Farms, who started growing fruit trees in discarded cold drink bottles when he was unemployed, and giving them to people to grow in his area is an inspiring example.
Foodscaping: past and present
Planting crop-yielding and ornamental plants together goes back to ancient Babylonian and Egyptian gardens that incorporated foodscaping techniques. During the centuries, it’s always had a place in countries all over the world, from cottage gardens to grand French potagers. ‘Foodscaping’ is a modern term for a logical and easy way to grow meaningful amounts of food in the spaces you already have cultivated. It’s a way of creating an integrative landscape, one that is not only resourceful because it produces edible foods, but that is also self-sufficient and low-maintenance. The great thing is that there aren’t many limitations on the size or style, and you don’t have to have a large amount of free space to get started.
Interplanting edibles for a healthy harvest, colour and texture
Designing an edible garden is very much like designing any other ornamental garden. You’ll want to choose plants that complement each other in terms of colour, texture, height and shape. Put them together so that they all work en masse to create a harmonious effect. Rather than placing plants in clumps or rows, opt for a more natural planting method based on a great diversity of plants.
You can start foodscaping simply by mixing edible plant varieties into the ornamental landscaping already in your outdoor area. That could be an expansive front yard, small planters in your backyard, or even a rooftop or balcony area with garden beds or pots – there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. Use the edges of your garden beds to start - you will be amazed by how much square footage is available. Bed edges are a great place to grow low maintenance varieties such as rocket, basil, garlic, lettuce, and potatoes. Planting here means your produce is easy to access for watering and harvesting, and really makes for visual impact.
Trees, like apple, pear, citrus, olive or a well-trimmed bay tree will provide some shade, need little maintenance and provide structure in your garden. If you don’t have the space for trees, then use trellises, walls, or pergolas to support climbing or trailing plants. Having height in the beds doesn’t just give that extra dimension to the space, it allows you to grow more food in a decorative way.
To have a food forest surrounding you, think about having each with its own ‘flavour’, everything working well together with a spot of companion planting being incorporated to make maintenance a little less taxing.
You can get so many different, beautiful varieties of heirloom vegetable seeds these days that offer striking forms and colours! Squashes that will clamber up and over fences and trellises, not only giving delight with their pendulous hanging fruits, but are a feast for the eyes with their huge edible orange blooms. Giant purple mustard, black kale and Bright Lights Swiss chard effortlessly create a rainbow of colour.
Violas, nasturtiums or wild garlic, along with roses (which are considered herbs) add extra edible colour. Plant out marigolds for keeping whiteflies away from tomatoes and for repelling root-feeding nematodes. Plus there have to be some flowers that will attract beneficial insects and pollinators, which are an important part of a balanced organic garden. Without them, the ‘bad’ insects will ruin the fruits.
Incorporate herbs, such as lemongrass with its graceful weeping habit, artichokes for their striking architectural form and hedges of rosemary and lavender which add colour and fragrance. Intersperse with the delicate fronds of fennel and asparagus. Cover the ground with organic mulch or plant groundcovers that densely cover the soil while producing edible crops such as strawberries. Another option is to use creeping herbs such as Pennyroyal or Corsican mint that you can grow in tall pots to create interesting scented chairs to sit on. By incorporating popular annual crops like tomatoes, peppers, kale, and chard directly into the landscape, you will add brilliant colours and textures that blend beauty and abundant harvest.
Choose edible plants that you enjoy most
The main thing is to plant what you like to eat and before you rip up all your lawn, experts suggest you start small! Start off with a 9 sqm plot in an area that drains well and focus on developing the sunniest areas of your landscape, as most edibles prefer bright exposure - so at least 6 hours of full sun a day.
Go on, this is your sign to build a garden that is both easy on the eyes and stomach!