The idea of creating an edible landscape is very appealing. How wonderful it would be to have a snack at hand, anywhere in your yard? It sounds like the perfect solution for gardeners with limited space and many vegetables are as attractive as so called ornamental plants. And they can’t be much more labor intensive than caring for a lawn.
The real caveat, for me, has been finding vegetables that can survive outside of my fenced in vegetable garden fortress. We are hardly the only ones who love pea tendrils and the luscious scent of tomatoes. Deer, squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits… know no boundaries when foraging. I started my edible landscaping plan with a few vegetables that aren’t overly appealing to my wildlife and I interplant them, among plants with scratchy textures and repellent scents. Here’s what’s worked for me.
Artichokes and cardoons are imposing plants that would be worth growing in the landscape, even if you couldn’t eat them. I haven’t had any problems with animals munching on the prickly leaves and as long as the flowers are a few feet off the ground, nothing has touched them. The only time I lost a bud to animal grazing was when I had a small plant growing in a container. Had I raised the container a bit, I don’t think that would have happened.
The leaves of bean plants are more attractive to animals than the bean pods. I grow pole varieties in my borders and I encircle the bottoms of the plants in chicken wire. It isn’t particularly noticeable at a distance and the plants eventually cover it. I may lose some leaves that poke through, but the animals don’t destroy the whole plant and the beans remain intact, for me to harvest.
No four-footed animal has ever touched my eggplants. Maybe that’s because they are scratchy and thorny or maybe there are better things to eat in the yard, but I’m happy either way. Flea beetles can make eggplant leaves unsightly in a matter of days, but they seem to do less damage when the eggplants are interspersed among scented flowers, so I consider planting them in the flower border a win-win.
4. Onions, Garlic and Chives
Let’s face it, humans are the only animals that devour these alliums. If there are failsafe vegetables for edible landscaping, it would be these. You can protect other vegetables by interplanting them with chives, but chives have a tendency to quickly spread. I would suggest you don’t let them go to seed. Since garlic and onions need to be dug up, they can be trickier to interplant. But you could always use them along edges.
I have the same problem with peppers as I do with beans; the leaves are more attractive to animals than the fruits. Young transplants seem to be especially vulnerable. Once the stems toughen up, the damage becomes minimal. Knowing that, I wait until they are about 6 inches tall, before I plant them in the open.
The perennial herbs are the safest choice for edible landscaping. Annual and biennial herbs, like parsley,basil and cilantro, are surprisingly appealing to animals, considering their strong scent. Maybe it’s their succulent foliage that makes them targets. But woodier herbs, like sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary and lavender, have all fared better in my yard. Mint has also remained attack-free, although I can’t say I would mind if someone wanted to thin out my patch for me.
7. Edible Flowers
Eating flowers from the flower garden can seem unnatural. Somehow planting them in the vegetable garden makes it seem more allowable to snip them for a salad. But growing edible flowers throughout your yard should be a no brainer in creating an edible landscape and I hope you’ve already realized this. Just be sure not to feed or spray them with anything you shouldn’t be ingesting.
8. Fruit Trees, Nuts and Berries
Although fruits and nuts are certainly alluring to animals, there is generally enough to go around, with a little netting and protection. The real advantage of using these plants as edible landscape is that they require minimal care and most look good for at least 3 seasons. A little spring pruning and feeding and most will take care of themselves. And I’d challenge anyone to find a shrub with more visual impact than a blueberry that covers itself with white flowers in spring, dusky purple berries in summer and radiant red leaves in the fall.
9. Caution: 3 Animal Magnets
Greens: If you want to attract every hungry animal in the woods, try planting any brassica in the open. In particular, kale is the call of the wild, in my yard. Leafy salad greens don’t fare much better. Oddly, it’s not the rabbits that gravitate toward the lettuce, it’s the deer and groundhogs.
Corn: Corn can be an unconventional ornamental grass. I’ve seen it used marvelously as a screen, like a stand of bamboo. Unfortunately my yard is home to a scurry of squirrels and they love nothing more than to climb the corn stalks and chomp on the cobs. They’ll even bend them to the ground, to share with others.
Peas: Unlike bean plants, I have never managed to keep peas alive in the open. Every animal in the yard appears to love the young tendrils and the pods. I even had a rabbit build her nest at the base of my plants, apparently so she wouldn’t have to travel far for food. You can try interplanting some of the more animal-attractive vegetables with repellent plants, like lavender and onions. It doesn’t always work, but if there are enough good things for them to eat with less effort, they may never get around to munching down your kale.