Roots and Shoots: Eat Your Yard

Ideas for edible landscaping

Generally speaking, gardening is treated as two distinct groups of expertise. There are the vegetable growers who can feed their families fresh food year-round or the flower specialists who dive into their own landscaping projects. There are levels of experience and expertise on both spectrums, but I’d argue that it’s possible, even necessary, to do both.

As more research demonstrates the positive impacts our yards can have as places for bird, insect and wildlife habitat, I’ve been envisioning intersections of vegetables, herbs and perennial flowers for everyone’s betterment. Less lawn equals less mowing and more available habitat and food for all.

As an experiment, I chose Hudson Valley Seed from the seed catalogs piled on my desk. I appreciate the company for its open-pollinated seeds, growing trials done in similar conditions to my own, and  commitment to biodiversity of the seed bank.

I wanted to see if I could create a mixed planting of edible, bird-friendly and pollinator-friendly plants with a vibrant color palette spread out over spring, summer, and fall. My intention is to mix the plants in a flowerbed design, not in rows like a vegetable garden.

Here is a list of plants I’d love to see together in a sunny area that can all be found at Hudson Valley Seed.

Sow in April

Check catalog for details.

Magnolia blossom snap pea
This pink blossomed vining pea can hit 8 feet and has notably sweet peas. I appreciate how its form adds some wildness to a planting.

Wild bergamot
While you’ll have to wait until next season for flowers, it will be worth it. The leaves can be used as tea or as an herb to flavor food, and the foliage will stand out. Sow indoors and then transplant it after the frost date. This is a favorite of pollinators.

Chives
These check all the boxes for me: edible, perennial, ornamental and pollinator-friendly. The purple blooms have a pom-pom look.

Add mint for both flavor and flowers and watch the monarchs appear. (Photo by P. Doan)

Mint
I love both the blooms and making tea or adding it to a summer salad. Be cautious, though. It spreads quickly.

Sow in May

Check catalog for details.

Scarlet emperor runner beans
These can grow quickly into an 8-foot-tall mound covered first in bright red flowers and then large bean pods that can be eaten dried or fresh.

Purple peacock broccoli
The gray-green-purple hues and lace-edged leaves, which can be eaten like kale, add contrast to yellows, reds and greens.

Martian jewels sweet corn
In order to produce ears, corn stalks need to be able to cross-pollinate, so you’d need at least four adjacent to each other. Use as many or as few as you like. The strands of silk and purple ears on tall stalks can rise above and blend with herbs and other plants, contrary to a typical field of rows.

Bronze fennel
Think of it like a grass in landscape. This one grows up to 24 inches and has feathery leaves and a rich color. Use it in soups, roasts and salads.

Hopi red dye amaranth
This heat-tolerant green can be used in salads all summer long. Set it next to the corn or beans, and then add a pop of white with boneset.

Boneset
This medicinal herb may not be needed by your household to heal a broken bone but it’s a lovely perennial otherwise. It needs cold stratification, so it will require a few extra steps before planting.

Mammoth Long Island dill
This flowering dill can grow up to 3 feet tall and be used for cooking all year round. I can attest to its popularity with butterflies. I’ve planted it in mixed containers with annual flowering plants.

Glorious gleam nasturtium
These low-growing multi-hued edible flowers can be used in salads. I would plant them around the edges of the taller plants for pops of color rather than clustering them.

Flashback calendula mix
These bright and many-colored blooms are cold-hardy and can add vibrancy even in fall. Keep sowing them a few weeks apart all summer.

Consider this list a starting point or guide for your own mixed bed. In a future column, I’ll share ideas for mixing in berry-and-nut-producing shrubs and trees into an edible landscape.

Pamela Doan, a garden coach with One Nature, has grown ferns in Seattle, corn on a Brooklyn rooftop and is now trying to cultivate shitake mushrooms on logs. Email her at rootsandshoots@highlandscurrent.org.

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