Community and Edible Gardens are sprouting up all over. Literally.
Throughout the country, many urban areas have little or no land available on the ground
plane, or the spaces available are lots comprised of concrete, asphalt surfaces or even
contaminated surfaces. Churches and other non-profit groups have looked into ways to
feed the hungry and homeless, so these vacant lots have become sites for community
gardens. Other community gardens are made by groups of city-folk who are interested
in growing their own food and plants, even raising chickens, goats and other small
animals. Raised planters are constructed right on top of the asphalt; bean vines trained
up chain-link fence; fruit trees and canes trained as espaliers up masonry walls.
First, it is important to understand that as more and more people are raising food in their
landscapes–either as a hobby point of view or from wanting to know with more
certainty, how food gets to their plates, where it comes from–gardens and landscapes
that support vegetables have different requirements than those that support
ornamentals; so there may be a learning curve. Local Cooperative Education is a good
place to start to build a knowledge base. And the plant material list is also certainly
different. While it may not be as important to know the botanical names of food plants,
it is important to know what are their preferred habits. Fueling this is the rise in
popularity of farmers’ markets across the country along with recent best-selling books
Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Repeated instances of e.coli infections from produce, news about genetically modified produce, use of insecticides in
farming practices, and salmonella contamination in eggs have fostered a desire from
consumers to find healthier food.
Last fall, I took a trip to Longwood Gardens. The vegetable garden there is beautiful in
many ways, as one would expect from a display at Longwood. For designers who like to
use borders and rows of similar plants, this design element is immediately apparent;
there were rows of beautiful red kale; vertical tee-pees of pole beans, their middle green
providing not only a vertical element, but a gentle color that helped make the red of the
kale all the more dramatic; gourds and winter squash sporting their warts and stripes
made outstanding focal points. This display was every bit as beautiful as the other
displays in the Gardens.
Both vegetables and herbs grown in Medieval gardens, gardens in Williamsburg, VA,
French potager, depict borders and rows to accentuate the success of their designs
while at the same time aiding in gardeners’ tasks of maintenance and harvesting. So
the design element of an edible garden is also purposeful.
Perhaps one pre-conceived idea that prevents more designers from using edibles in the
landscape is because many vegetables are annuals. Yes, while many edibles are
annuals, the list of perennials includes herbs, fruit trees, canes and bushes, fennel,
asparagus and rhubarb. There are edible flowers, too; calendula,viola, geraniums,
roses, gallium, and dianthus. I have grown amaranth in my garden next to some
Hungarian Broom Corn. This was more an experiment than for food, since I didn’t
grown that much of it. The fall color is very striking. Aggressive re-seeder, though–NB.
What’s new is many times what was old–and then renewed.
In the 18th century,
Stephen Switzer wrote a book called
The Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener’s Recreation
in which he included the phrase, “ferme ornee,” a French term for
ornamental farm. (Rogers.) Landscapes could be heading that way, if the recent
interest in the edible landscape continues.
Sources and Suggested Readings:
Creative Vegetable Gardening
. New York: Sterling Publishing
Rogers, Elizabeth Barlow.
Landscape Design; A Cultural and Architectural History
New York; Henry Abrams, Inc., 2001.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
. New York:
Harper Perennial, 2007.
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.
Penguin Books, 2009.