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Why You Should Rethink Food Growing

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

 

My entire business is about living farm fresh without the farm. That means

  • Capitalizing on seasonal flavors of locally sourced food
  • Preserving and food crafting that flavor
  • Exploring ways to produce your own food no matter how small your space.

And it is that last item that I want to talk about.

Most people think that food growing means planting a vegetable garden with boring rows of vegetables.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Go From Boring to Breathtaking:

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

I have been small-space homesteading on 1/10th of an acre for over 20 years now and I have NEVER planted my veggies in rows.

It just never felt right to me.

After all, it’s not farmland.  It’s my home garden!

I have always strived to make my landscape pretty AND productive even though my space is small.

And therein lies the issue.

When people don’t have a lot of space, they think they can’t grow food.

They have this image in their head that they need to plant rows of vegetables to be productive.

Although there is nothing wrong with rows of vegetables, I just don’t think it lends itself to the home landscape with our oddly shaped planting areas.

Instead, I challenge you to think of your edible plants in the same way as any other plant in your landscape.

Designing with food has been known as “edible landscaping” for a long time. Now the new buzz word for this type of gardening is “foodscaping”.

No matter what you call it, it is not new. People like Ros Creasy have been doing it for decades and it works beautifully.

Think Differently:

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

The trick is to think of your edible plants in terms of color, texture and form.

By doing so, you open up a whole new world of gardening possibilities.

It can transform your landscape and spark a whole new love for producing food.

It is the way I have always treated my own food growing.

My landscape looks like an English cottage garden because that is the garden style I prefer.

But most people do not realize that 90% of landscape is completely edible.

4 Ways to Transform Food Landscapes

My shift in my own personal garden design began immediately after my first landscape design class in college. The class had nothing to do with edibles, but the overall ideas applied.

We were taught that basic landscape design principles hold true no matter the size of the garden you are designing.

So we would just shrink the scale, but follow the same solid design principles utilized in larger landscapes.

It was as if a light bulb went off in my head and I started looking at my edibles as if they were not edibles as all.

There are many design principles you can utilize, but my favorites are as follows:

Color, Texture & Form:

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

When you consider adding an edible plant to your landscape, think beyond the flavor.

Look at the color, texture and even the form of that plant.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it bright green (like butterhead lettuce) or burgundy (red velvet lettuce)?
  • Are the leaves tall and spiky (chives) or rounded (spinach)?
  • Does it make you want to touch the leaves (sage) or keep back (artichoke)?

Edible Landscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

Use these traits to add some drama to the landscape with:

Echo: Create color echos throughout the garden and it will pull it all together. Just pick a few colors and repeat them. You can use the same plant in several places or different plants with the same color (like purple cabbage and purple flowered basil)

Contrast: Place contrasting textures & shapes next to each other to add interest and keep the plants from blending together. Doing this let’s each plant grouping standout and shine.

Size: Plant edibles as you would other plants with taller plants toward the back of a flowerbed and shorter plants toward the front.

Plant in Drifts:

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

A drift is the opposite of a row. It is a grouping of plants – usually laid out in an odd or random pattern.

Think of planting in the same way that you would plant bulbs (like tulips).

You place the plants randomly within your imaginary drift area so that they look as if they grew there naturally rather than in straight rows.

Tips:

  • For planting medium-sized plants in a smaller garden, you may have to create a drift of only 3 plants rather than the 7-9 plants you would use in a larger landscape.
  • For medium-sized plants, odd numbers are best.
  • For a large plant (like an artichoke) in a smaller landscape, you may have a drift of one.

Over-Planting & Baby Veggies

Edible Landscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

Spring onions between cabbage

I started “baby” veggie growing when my boys were little.

Due to their excitement and impatience in waiting for the food to get big enough to harvest, I would over plant my garden so that they could harvest some “baby” veggies early without sacrificing my entire crop.

But I soon realized that by consciously over planting and then later thinning for meals, I was doubling my use of that one small space.

Now, this is different from regular “thinning” where you pull the extra plants while they are shoots.

I let the plants grow to “baby produce” size and then thin.

This gives you things like:

  • Tender baby carrots
  • Tender, spring onions
  • Baby spinach
  • broccoli sprouts and more

Include Flowers:

Landscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

I have always felt that my colorful flowers were the secret weapons of my landscape design.

They add a pop of color to an otherwise green landscape and they help draw in pollinators to my vegetables.

It is a win-win.

If you can include some edible flowers like nasturtiums and roses, it is even better.

I use flowers as:

  • Exclamation marks to the garden. (Bright yellows and reds)
  • Complimentary color echos (Purple flowers in beds of purple cabbage)
  • The glue that ties everything together (Letting nasturtiums weave between all flowerbeds)

The Tricky Part: Crop Rotation

Where this method of food growing gets tricky for some people is with crop rotation.

In food gardening, you never want to plant the same vegetable in the same bed year after year. Doing so would eventually deplete the soil because each plant uses up its own unique set of nutrients from the soil.

A better practice is to rotate your crops each year so that your soil has a chance to recover. You can dive deeper into this topic, but that is the basic principle.

In my style of food growing, I just have to pay attention that I don’t just keep repeating a garden layout each year.

Given the fact that my garden is so small, it is fairly easy to remember where I planted things like carrots vs. green beans.

However, where this becomes frustrating is when I have a certain layout in any particular year that is a showstopper.

I SO want to plant it over again to get the same effect. But I am not able to just repeat that exact layout in that same spot the following year.

The Downside:

Edible Landscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

There is one downside to my garden.

Although I do have foundational plantings of perennials such as apple trees and herbs, most of my garden consists of annual plants.

This means that I have to completely rip out and replant most of my yard every year.

Yes, there are times when I long for a more permanent landscape that only needs sprucing up each year.

But when that first Amish paste tomato ripens in the summer heat, that thought is but a fleeting memory.

So tell me…

Are you currently growing food?

Do you plant in rows or drifts?

Let me know in the comments.

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.

53 Comments:

  • Vanessa says:

    What a lovely post. Very inspiring. Thank you.

  • Becky says:

    I do plant in rows, but I have a large garden, and I wanted it to be a potager style garden. If I had a smaller space, I’d love to try planting veg in drifts. I think it all looks lovely! Thanks for the different perspective.

    • theresa says:

      I love potager style Becky. That is a lovely way to garden. If I had a larger space, I would garden your way. LOL

  • Vee says:

    This is a motivating post for me. I container garden because I always wait to late in the season to prepare an area of my yard for my vegetables…and add a bit of laziness to that and well, containers it is. I think I’ll change that this year.

    • theresa says:

      Hey there Vee,

      Don’t beat yourself up. There is nothing wrong with container gardening! In fact, you can make that pretty spectacular as well. The same principles apply that I wrote about in this post. Garden on!

  • Cathie says:

    Hi Theresa,

    I just have to laugh this brings back memories from very long time ago –my gosh! 25-30 years . My husband and I purchased the only home in our budget, we were military with a growing family , that would accommodate our family and my then husbands dad that was coming to live with us. It just happened to be a repossessed home and badly abused. When I finally was able to start working in the yard and planting (had a lack of palatable space). My mother stopped by one day while I was out in the yard working and said “ What are you doing?” I said planting some tomatoes, peppers and some other veggies? She said but you don’t have your rows! I said so what – are they not going to grow if they aren’t in rows mom? She thought for a minute and said well I guess they will –do it your way –you always have. Yep, guess I have been bulking the system for a long time now. Let’s face it rows are well just borrrrring ! I see random planting or foodscaping as it’s now know as interesting, rewarding, and surprising. If a bird drops a seed and it happens to grow, benefit you get a surprise. It is also a very good disguise. When you mix and mingle passerby most of the time only see the flowing plants. Now not that I don’t want to share what I grow because I do. I plant some things I don’t eat just because I like the look and give the produce away. But I also grow to can and freeze so I can provide myself with chemical free food. I am an ecliptic out of the box thinker doer. I focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problems.

    I love the site and all the interesting topics pictures and ideas. I can get lost for hours. Lol

    • theresa says:

      Hi Cathie,

      Thank you SO much for writing!

      I had to laugh too. You’re right, they don’t need rows to grow. LOL And here’s a virtual “high-five” for going against the norm. I’m with ya! It’s your think-outside-the-box approach the gives you your creative edge.

      I’m so glad you are enjoying the site. 🙂

  • Marley says:

    My big planting dilemma is deer. I mix edibles into my landscape, but they have to be ones the deer (and bunnies and groundhogs) will leave alone — herbs like chives and lemon balm. Any veggies *have* to go behind a very high fence.

    This year I’m starting a new vegetable bed, a round one, and am trying to figure out the best bang-for-the-space planting plan. Hopefully one that goes better with the rest of my naturalized landscape than the traditional rows. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • theresa says:

      Man, sorry to hear about the deer issues. They can be a huge problem. I hope can find a good solution. 🙁

    • Cathie says:

      Hi Marley,

      I read that you could soak rags in straight urine then split a tennis balls and stuff (might want to wear gloves for this part) then you hang around the garden area. The poster said to move them around every few days. You might try it. When I lived in MI. we had a problem with a black bear a Big Black Bear that would come and try getting into a feed barrel we had under a tree in back of our cabin so we hung rags dipped in pee and hung it in the tree and he stopped coming. So it just might work for the deer too. Please let us know if you try it.

    • Rose L says:

      As a former farm wife I feel for you and the problems that come with gardening in the country. Deer are a problem that you can do little about when it comes to saving your plants. I found it helpful to watch the roaming and foraging patterns of the deer and stay clear of any pathways they used to get from one area to another (from fields to water etc.). They are not inclined to change their habits and often will do damage to an area just to be able to access it as they have in the past. Sometimes a seven foot fence is the only option but the same is true when dealing with farm animals like cattle and goats…fencing is the answer. As to a round bed…how exciting…I think a spiral shaped planting would work best as you could build in pathways between plantings that would give you access for harvesting and weeding. Sounds like a fun garden!

  • Janet Finley says:

    Most of my vegetables are grown in above ground boxes I have built. I have stuck tomato plants, broccoli and cabbages along my fence in the occasional bare spot between flowers. The last two years I have put purple cabbages in my flower beds, but for some reason they have not grown. They live, but do not grow, just stay the same approximate size til frost. One survived through the winter and through another summer – still without enlarging. No clue.

  • Susan says:

    Hi Theresa,
    I love this subject. Even before I knew much about gardening I liked to add my herbs and some veggies to my flower beds, always in a mixed-up pattern. When my first career fell apart, I went back to school and studied horticulture and landscape design with an emphasis on helping people create their own personal organic gardens. I’ve told clients for years to mix it all up and it has been a success. I can no longer do this professionally (turns out I’m allergic to too many plants!), but I still tell my friends to add some veggies and herbs to their gardens. Lovely photos, by the way, of your plantings!

    • theresa says:

      Thanks Susan. It sounds like you were really opening up people’s eyes to the possibilities. Bummer about the allergies!

  • Sara says:

    I have a mix of messy rows and jumbles, plus some pots tucked in here and there, but I do have flowers and veggies and herbs tucked together.

  • Pat P says:

    My daughter is starting out with fruit trees, vegetables, hopefully some hens and all on an abandoned car dump type acre. Our hope is someday she will have some lovely edible landscaping like yours. Thanks for the uplifting pictures and text.

  • Nell says:

    Have been a huge fan of Roz Creasy for years and did ‘edible landscaping’ at my previous home. However, we’re now ‘in the country’ and the critters have eaten every plant I put out. So, we created a hillside orchard/garden behind an 8’foot fence, with gopher cages surrounding each root ball and small chicken wire dug in and on the lower part of the fence to keep the rabbits away. This doesn’t stop the jays from eating my berries or my fruit, so the thinking hat will be going back on.

    I too, over plant (broadcast) and eat the thinnings. Did it this year in a 4 x 8 bed with: radishes, spinach, beets, carrots and garlic. Radishes have just finished and we’ve eaten our first meals of beet greens. I’ve also given away our first spinach ‘crop’, but there’s plenty more in the bed.

    Although I’ve started several types of tomato seeds, we have volunteer tomatoes started in the containers that are filled from scraped soil/straw/chicken manure that I removed when we moved our chicken coop. Those plants are now well over a foot tall and blooming, where my starts are barely 4″ tall!

    I’ve always liked the edible landscaping, oops, foodscaping concept as it’s so much closer to looking natural, and most vegetable plants are actually very pretty.

    Thanks for all the great work you’re doing!!!!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Neil – Thank YOU for commenting. It sounds like you are doing a pretty good job of keeping those pesky critters at bay. I wish I had good tip for the jays, but I have the same issue. Who ever comes up with the best solution has to promise to share with the other, ok?

      • Mary E. says:

        Hello –
        Love your garden and love the PBS show!
        I live in San Francisco and have had success protecting my strawberries from birds. I use very light netting made of some sort of plastic over my berry plants. I elevate it from the plants by using long chopsticks.
        And to Nell, if you have happy volunteer tomatoes try to get seeds and replant them. I have a volunteer tomato in my backyard that is about 3 feet wide and 4 feet tall. It must have 100 blossoms on it. They are cherry tomatoes and volunteered themselves so I figure they like the place, weather and the way I take care of that area.
        Now, if I could figure out how to rid my garden of a gazillion pillbugs without using poison, I would be happy.

  • Sara says:

    I love your article and I love your garden! I started a new raised bed vegetable garden this year. We can get plague numbers of rabbits, so everything edible has to be fenced really well.
    But I see no reason why next year I couldn’t plant multiple edible plants in the raised beds to look similair to the effect you have obtained in your garden. Rather than fill one bed with just tomatoes and one with just spinach etc. Very inspiring.

  • Carol says:

    What a great post! Thank you. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are just beginning to see veggies germinate and grow. I have also gotten a lot of benefit from waiting to thin, until I have some babies to harvest and eat. This works particularly well with greens. Like Marley, I have a deer problem, so most of the vegetable growing area is fenced off, but I can get away with tucking in eggplant, basils, other strong smelling herbs and tomatoes in my front flower garden, which has the most sun and warmth. The deer seem to leave those alone. I’m inspired to try more foodscaping in my fenced off area, too.

  • Rose L says:

    I’ve been a huge cottage gardener for many years and though I do add herbs to those plantings I do like the majority of my veggies separate. I think they need different growing conditions than do most perennials (more water, more fertilizer) especially if you are paying attention to soil amendments. Married to a farmer, we think big and plant big, bringing in manure by dump truck loads to enrich our sandy soil. I’ve spent years getting my veggie garden to a point that I know exactly how much and when to plant to provide us with enough food to last the entire year. The only thing we currently buy from the store is dairy products. Rows or no rows I think veggies growing together are every bit as beautiful as border of perennials, especially when adding specific annuals for determent or encouragement of beneficial insects. I could not grow enough to feed us if I had to mix it all together. Just different priorities I suspect.

  • Jean says:

    No, I have enough space but it’s almost all in the shade. Between that and the deer, it’s an uphill battle. No fencing allowed here so they snack as they please.

  • Ferne says:

    I have about an acre to garden in that is surrounded in 8 foot deer fence. My raised beds are a foot high with gopher wire in the bottom so we are learning how to get around the problems in our environment here in the foothills of Mt. Lassen in northern California. I enjoyed your post very much because I had a brainstorm while looking for places to incorporate the roses I just had to have in my yard and am mixing them into my designated vegetable garden area. I have lots of annual flower seeds started in the green house along with my veggies and can’t wait to pull my plan together. I love your website and your new podcast was right up my alley. We also have an acre with an orchard full of heirloom apples, peaches, nectarines, quince and even jujubes. This year the trees are looking like they will be producing our first bumper crop, they are in their 4th year since planting. I am planning to find every way possible to preserve as much as I can…and sell the rest!

  • In the city (a year ago) all of our fruits and veggies were grown in our beds. Just tucked in here and there. We didn’t have an official garden but we did build a couple small raised beds. That was helpful.
    Today, in the country we have a huge garden space so yes, there are some rows 🙂

    • theresa says:

      Lucky you Karen! I am not anti-row – especially in a large space. I just don’t want people to think their smaller home space has to have rows. There are no rules. And you know that well if you have done it both ways. 😉

      Your new digs sound awesome.

  • growingequality says:

    I’ve been gardening for many years, then stopped for several years due to a disabling injury. Just started back up this year, finding as many ‘easy hacks” possible to grow the family’s food with being physically challenged.
    So now I’m experimenting with low maint. methods, a self-watering system, a no-dig method, and researching all the time for more info.
    I Just found out how our planet is impacted by using Peat moss in our gardens, and feel it’s important 2 share w/ everyone:
    I’ve used Peat Moss 4 many years for ‘naturally’ improving soil, not knowing the environmental toll it takes. Peat moss is harvested in the Canadian wetlands. Peatlands around the world make up only 3% of the Earth’s land surface, yet they sequester 30-33% of all known soil carbons. [about 8% of World carbon output]
    PittMoss on the other hand, is made out of recycled paper, It eliminates the need to degrade carbon sequestering peatlands for production of plants and soil amendments. It also holds moisture 2X better and is 20% less expensive than Peat.
    PLEASE Help the planet and your pocket by asking your Garden Suppliers 2 carry PITT MOSS and plant growers 2 use it. Please pass it on…
    [Thanks 4 listening]

  • growingequality says:

    ps: Ros Creasey’s one of my heros, inspired returning to gardening. I’ve always done what i could to beautify my garden, companion planting for beauty as well as plant health. Now i am struggling since the RGGS system is basically row planting. Without a lot of expense, there’s not a great potential [that i’ve yet found or come up with] for free-form planting (RGGS is a self-watering, no dig growing sysytem using rain gutter/capillary irrigation and grow bags, and uses about 90% less water than ground planting). If anyone has ideas, i’d love to hear/see/read about them!

  • patricia says:

    I just got back from buying seeds and look what I have found! This is my first season in a new backyard, and there are various planting spaces already dug out from years past including a large circle and a medium sized rect to the back behind an apple tree. I have a lot of trouble drawing inside the lines, and had been thinking about this idea. Not sure if I was just going to make a mess, wanting to mix in native plants, and bird and bee sustainers. ALSO I’ve been reading about companion planting. So confused! But laughing. Thank you for the subject…
    Best,

    Pat

    • theresa says:

      Hi Patricia –

      Well, I’m so glad the post helped you feel like you had permission to color outside lines. 🙂

      Don’t worry about making a mess. There are no mistakes. If something doesn’t please you, pull it out or move it. I think of gardening like painting the walls of a room. If a color feels off, it is easy to change it. Mix it all up and have fun!

  • patricia says:

    Also, are there flowers that definitely should NOT be planted with edibles?

    • theresa says:

      As for flowers NOT to plant with edibles, I try to avoid poisonous plants for the most part. 😉

      I am not an expert in companion planting, so I am not sure of any die-hard no-nos.

      • Dee says:

        I learned the hard way that sunflowers give off a chemical in soil that discourages and can retard the growth of neighboring plants. my asparagus r just starting to recover 2 yrs later. Don’t know if all veggies don’t like them (or if all sunflower types r bad), but had poor performance with neighboring squashes and brassicas B4 finding this out. now I just keep them away from my food crops.

  • Allie says:

    Is it possible to grow a small garden in pallets on an enclosed porch?

  • Paul says:

    Hi Ferne, – I just wanted to comment on what you said about living in the foothills near Mount Lassen. Well, that sure brought up some memories for me. My dad use to own 10 acres of land with a little cabin on it plus a couple of storage sheds about 6 miles east of a little town called Whitmore, which from what I remember, was around a half hour drive or so to Lassen National Park. And my dad, a European, who was a French educated agronomist use to comment on how naturally fertile the soil was, and then he would explain to me (as a 10 year old) the reason why was because of the volcanic activity from Mt.Lassen, even tho the mountain has been dormant for a century as of this year! My dad came to the U.S. from Sicily so he was well informed about volcanic ash & how it enriches the surrounding soil thanks to the on-going volcanic activity coming from Mount Etna. Thanks for leaving your comment.
    Paul

  • Marlene says:

    I live in the low desert and it is a real challenge. I had tomatoes, eggplant, and watermelon this year. I used hardware cloth beds to keep the rodents away. Cats have helped, as well! It can be hot here 5 months of the year.
    I love your cottage garden look and will try some of your suggestions for my winter garden.

  • Agatha says:

    Last year I decided planting my garden in the front left side of my home to escape all the bugs that have been devastating the garden at the back of the house. I had a bumper crop of tomatoes, peppers, bush beans and cucumbers. My zucchini however did not do well but I am not complaining since the others made up for it. I do plan to start canning this year and look forward to all your lovely advice starting with the blueberry jam. Thank you and keep up the good work. Agatha

    • theresa says:

      Thanks Agatha.

      Bummer about the zucchini – it usually the one that produces the most. I bet this year will be better. Sounds like the other veggies made all the difference.

  • Marianela says:

    LOVE how you laid out your garden. The combination of colors is just so refreshing. These are perfect ideas. Thank you =)

  • Janet says:

    Just watched you on WGBY. I love your garden. I have about 1 Acre of land but I’m struggling with finding enough sunlight to grow tomatoes, eggplant and the like. Maybe its our difference in climate (I’m in Massachusetts) but I’m wondering how you get enough hours of sunlight on 1/10 acre with a 6 ft fence surronding the property and a house. Aren’t your plants in the shade most of the time?

    • theresa says:

      Hi Janet,

      No – most of my garden is full sun. The only side that get’s shaded from the wall is the North facing wall. It all has to do with the angles of the sun and where I am positioned.

  • Betty Gray says:

    I live in the city and would like to start gardening. However, my yard has poison ivy and both Neighbors do too. I think raised gardens would be good but don’t know how to correctly construct one appropriate for our needs. All that I’ve seen were very shallow and utilized the soil below. Can you share tips on how to over come these obstacles. I live in Wisconsin, we have a very short span of time to work with. Thanks Betty

  • Evelyn says:

    I have a small garden and have planted in rows. Thanks for helping me see that going: outside the box” is a viable option. I will use your technique which is
    quite appealing. Thank you

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