Edible Garden Design Guide

Lead Author


Edible landscaping and urban farming are just new terms for an age-old practice; in fact, most cultivated gardens through the centuries have included food plants, whether a few fruit trees scattered in the back yard or a large kitchen garden providing year-round meals for the entire household. The recent surge of interest in growing food at home has created a great opportunity to reinvent this age-old practice in ways that can sustainably fit with any garden and lifestyle.

There are many ways to add edible plants to a typical urban or suburban landscape; incorporating them into an existing garden, replacing all or part of your lawn with food beds, using edibles as the foundation for a brand new garden design, or a combination of these ideas. This design guide contains a variety of ideas and tips to use and adapt to grow food in a way that's suitable for you.

When making your edible landscaping plans, it's important to follow the step-by-step approach in the sustainable garden design section. Edible landscaping decisions also require a few extra ingredients for success:

Step One

When analyzing your garden, take these additions into consideration:

  • Most food plants need plenty of sunshine to thrive in our maritime northwest climate. Some food plants, such as corn and other grains, are wind pollinated. Therefore, your notes on the way the sun and wind move through your garden are even more important.
  • Soil testing is vital, especially if your best food-growing space is next to your home or in your planting strip. The soil in these areas may be lacking vital nutrients and could contain lead, petroleum, or other chemicals that affect the method you will need to use to grow food safely there. The Garden Hotline can provide you with a list of soil labs and instructions on taking your soil samples.
  • Building and maintaining healthy soil will be an ongoing task, because most food crops are more dependent than ornamentals on the steady supply of the nutrients, water, and air that organic matter helps to sustain in the soil. Exceptions are Mediterranean herbs, which prefer to be in leaner soils once they have well-established roots. The Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil page includes information on amending, fertilization, mulching, and cover cropping.

Step Two

Your wish list will need to include your favorite vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Depending on the amount of food-growing space you have, you might need to narrow your list a little to cover favorites that are "must haves" because they are hardest to find fresh or most expensive to purchase in the quantities you typically use. View a sample wish list for an edible garden

Step Three

When making natural decisions about edible landscaping, take these additions into consideration:

  • Most of our gardens don't have oodles of open space to devote to growing food. This makes it vital to maximize all the sunny locations you have as well as the resources to "increase the heat" that your existing patio or other hardscape may provide. Taking careful note of these can also open the door to some "outside the box" ideas to fit food plants into existing ornamental landscapes and extend the growing season well beyond spring and summer. Visit the Making the Most of Your Space page for info on succession and companion planting.
  • Because most food plants are insect-pollinated, and a main objective is for each plant to produce as much as possible, it is also vital to plan to attract pollinators to your garden. The Ensuring Pollination page includes a chart of plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, as well as tips on how to position wind-pollinated crops, and watering methods to preserve pollen.
  • Practicing crop rotation is an essential part of pest and disease prevention, and can be easily accomplished if you plan it into your garden design from the start. Visit the Crop Rotation and Other Pest Prevention Stategies page, which contain on the basic tenets of pest control, sample rotation map, nurse and trap planting tips, and more.
  • In general, food plants fall into the higher-maintenance end of the spectrum, so you will have much greater success growing them in locations that are easily accessible for all regularly-needed tasks. Visit the Ensuring Accessibility page for more information on topics such as water access, pathway tips, zonation, and disabled-access beds.

...Last but not least

Don't let the extra considerations of food-growing make edible landscaping seem too daunting! You can always start with small additions and then grow bigger as you gain more experience and confidence - that is the way of all living things, and therefore very sustainable!

All photos on this page are the property of Emily Bishton

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