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What is Edible Landscaping?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2018
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Edible landscaping is a general term used to describe the practice of growing landscape plants that are also edible. It is, essentially, the combination of the food garden with the ornamental garden, recognizing that many food plants are attractive in addition to bearing crops. The movement for edible landscaping has been around since at least the first World War, and have begun to see a massive revival around the United States and Europe.

Historically, the idea of ornamental gardens was relatively rare, and was seen only among the wealthiest sectors of society. In the post-Industrial age, however, many people began planting lawns and flower gardens on their own properties, to create tranquil locales reminiscent of the picturesque gardens of antiquity. This trend continued through the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century, when it abruptly shifted with the onset of World War I.

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During both World War I and World War II, the idea of rationing was put forward by most nations involved in the conflicts as being a key component to winning the war. Citizens were extolled to do everything they could to conserve key resources, from donating scrap tin and copper, to foregoing eating meat or dairy, to carpooling to work to conserve vital fuel. One component of this was the promotion of the so-called Victory Garden, the conversion of lawn and ornamental gardens to food production. Posters and slogans, such as the inimitable Plant More in ‘44 helped promote the movement, and by the end of World War II nearly 40% of all produce consumed in the United States came from individual Victory Gardens.

After the War, with the new mentality of the 1950s in both Europe and the United States, most Victory Gardens were converted back to lawns or ornamentals. In fact, the amount of lawn agriculture grew exponentially in the post-War years, and edible landscaping became a thing of a past. Then, in the late-1960s, amid the counter-culture movements which promoted, among other things, a back-to-the-land ideal and natural food sources, edible landscaping began to come back into vogue. Through the 1980s and 1990s it again waned, and then at the turn of the new century edible landscaping came to the forefront of the public consciousness again.

Nearly anything can be grown as a part of an edible landscaping garden, but generally people try to stick to hardy perennials that can survive in fairly drastic temperature swings. Fruit trees are consistently popular among those who have the space, with apples, cherry, peach, nectarine, kiwi, and pomegranates among the most popular. Groundcovers like wild strawberry are also very popular, replacing lawn grass for walkways through the landscape.

Many people incorporate kitchen spices in their edible landscaping to ensure a constant supply of basic spices. These include standbys like sage, rosemary, thyme, and bay, but may also include spices like chives, mint, tarragon, marjoram, and dandelion. Other popular plants in edible landscaping include blueberries, gooseberries, currants, lemon balm, figs, asparagus, artichokes, pineapple guava, sorrel, and persimmons.

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