How to Design a Practical Garden with Edible Plants
If you’ve ever heard the term ‘edible garden’ and wondered what it’s all about, this guide provides the basics of designing one – from the type of landscaping materials to use to the varieties of plants to put in it.
What is edible garden landscaping?
An edible garden is one where the contents can be eaten, regardless of whether they’re fruits, vegetables, herbs or flowers. It’s like having the best of both worlds; a garden that’s beautiful to look at and yet good to eat as well.
And you’d be surprised at the types of plants that are edible (roses and a variety of other flower petals for example) and the kinds of edible plants that are pleasing to the eye (chives and passion fruit possess attractive blooms, while the red and green foliage of lettuce and beets makes them ideal garden borders or groundcover).
The best kind of edible garden is one where every plant serves more than one purpose. For example, if you include grapes in your design, you’ll not only have fruit to eat and to turn into wine, but trained over a trellis or arbour, the vines will provide shade for other plants as well.
And herbs are the classic example of aesthetically pleasing plants that also add flavour to our meals. Lavender, chicory, chives, marjoram, rosemary and sage all make a spectacular display of colour.
What is companion planting?
Companion planting is also an important aspect of an edible garden. For instance, if you don’t want to use chemicals to keep away bugs, pest-repellent plants placed strategically throughout your garden can help to protect those plants which would otherwise be eaten by garden pests. Examples of pest-repellent plants include marigolds, lavender, daisies, fennel, dill, rosemary, basil and petunias.
Climbing and understorey plants such as acacias, casuarinas, grevilleas and banksias are also good companion plants. Not only do they lend beauty to the garden, they also provide important support within the garden ecosystem such as nitrogen fixation, nutrient accumulation, mulching and wildlife habitat. Larger trees at the edges of the garden also serve multiple functions including providing shade, windbreaks and privacy screening.
Garden basics: what to consider
When designing an edible garden, or any garden for that matter, several important factors need to be considered including;
- Sun – where does the sun move during the day? Where are the afternoon hot spots in summer, the sunny spots in winter, the spots that remain shady all year round? Determining this will show you which plants will do best in different areas of your garden.
- Wind – how much wind is your garden exposed to? Which direction do the warm and cold winds come from? Are there any natural windbreaks your garden can take advantage of such as trees or buildings, or will you need to construct windbreaks?
- Water – does your garden have good drainage? You can find out by digging a few small holes in different positions, filling them with water and timing how long it takes to drain away. A rate of between one and six inches per hour indicates good drainage, while any more or less than this indicates excessive drainage (sandy soil) or poor drainage (clay soil), both of which can be improved by adding compost or mulch.
- Soil – the ideal soil for your garden should be free draining, rich in organic matter and have a neutral to slightly acidic pH level (6 to 7). You can use a soil test kit to determine whether the pH needs adjusting, (available from any plant nursery). Acidic soils can be adjusted by digging in calcium (i.e. lime), while alkaline soils can be improved over time by adding sulphur and compost.
Designing and landscaping your edible garden
Once you have a rough idea of what you intend to grow in your garden, it’s time to look at a design that will be practical, aesthetically pleasing and easy to access and maintain.
If your garden is a kitchen garden, you should try and locate it as close to the house as possible so that you can just pop out and grab what you need, be it veggies, herbs or other edibles. In permaculture terms, this is known as the ‘oftenest-nearest’ principle, where plants are located according to how often they’re used.
Raised garden beds are also a good idea, as they make it easy to tend to your plants and the edges can double as garden benches when you just want to sit and soak up some sun. Ideally, choose stone borders over timber, as timber tends to rot over time and stone faced beds will help warm the soil faster and keep it warmer for longer, helping to extend the season for your plants
Incorporating walls into your garden can also be beneficial, as they’ll not only act as windbreaks and provide climbing space for espaliers and vines, but also provide an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for your garden, particularly if constructed using bricks or stone (stone cladding is a more affordable option if your budget won’t stretch to stone walls).
It’s also a good idea to have clear divisions and paths between your garden beds and around the garden’s perimeter. Stone pavers or stepping stones are the perfect choice. They look good, are easy to clean and provide sure footing and if weed block is laid under them, they will keep weeds at bay as well.
For more on edible gardens, talk to the experts at your local plant nursery and to find out more about using stone to design your ideal outdoor space, talk to the team at Armstone, the natural stone experts.