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This year, we took down a large evergreen that was blocking the view from our window and completely re-created our front garden. But instead of just picking what "looked pretty" at the garden store, we went with a combination of native and edible landscaping.
Our decision to go native and edible comes from both our own commitment to sustainable living, and what we have learned about permaculture practices - or ecological gardening. This article is the second in a series we're writing about how our homestead is changing based on what we're learning about permaculture. The first article outlined our shift to a "fedge" or food hedge instead of trying to fight nature with more and more metal fencing.
Though we had learned bits and pieces about this native and edible approach to landscaping in the past, we have been particularly inspired lately by a book called "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" by Toby Hemenway.
Why Native AND Edible?
As Toby Hemenway described in his book, "Natural gardens consist almost exclusively of native plants and are intended to create and restore habitat." Plants that are native to your region will perform better with less maintenance and less watering because they are used to growing in your environment. They also provide habitat for animals and food for birds and other wildlife, while also benefiting native pollinators.
Beyond native, though, Hemenway describes an ecological garden as a "multifunctional landscape" that provides food and other goods for the owner while also creating habitat for other species.
By combining native and edible plants, we are making our land more in line with what nature intended AND decreasing our own impact on the environment by growing more of our own food. If we simply planted native plants, that might be good for wildlife and help restore some balance to the ecosystem, but it would mean that we were getting our food from elsewhere. Thus, in many ways we would be negating our positive environmental impact with all the negative impacts of that kind of lifestyle - driving, growing mono-cultures, shipping food, etc.
While one native and edible garden bed will not change the world, we're trying to transition most of our homestead to this combination of plants, and at least make a difference in our little part of the world - maybe even inspire a few other people to do the same!
Native and edible plants are also just as beautiful as anything ornamental you could choose. Getting to eat from them is an enjoyable bonus!
For more information, I definitely recommend reading the introduction to Gaia's Garden and other great resources on permaculture and ecological gardening.
Our Native & Edible Garden Makeover
When we decided to make over our front garden, we knew we wanted edible landscaping, but also plants that would look like a front "bush" and fill in the space with lovely foliage. We also wanted a few plants that would have foliage year-round, or at least have an interesting presentation in the winter when most of our landscape had lost its color.
Here's what our front garden looked like before
we switched to edible and native landscaping.
Guess what? There's a window behind there!!
Here we need to throw a shout-out to the staff at our local Gardner's Supply Company store, who walked us through all of the potential varieties they had in stock for our garden with the utmost expertise and helpful advice!
In most cases, berries and brambles are an excellent option when it comes to edible landscaping. They can create almost a "hedge" once they are full grown, but also offer food for you, blossoms for the pollinators, and some extra berries that the local wildlife might also enjoy. Since we already had blueberries, elderberries, and raspberries on our property, we were looking for something different. So, we landed on two edible berry varieties - currents and lingonberries.
Currents are an awesome option for jams and jellies, plus a little bit of sharing with the birds. We purchased one pink champagne current (which are sweeter) and one black current plant. We placed these plants in the back of the garden because they will grow fairly tall and wide (4-5 feet tall, 3-6 feet wide). This was the perfect height to not block our window and large enough to eventually fill the back of the garden space nicely.
Lingonberries (also called "cowberries," among other things) are a low-growing evergreen shrub, which was great for our desire to have some continued color in the winter. The berries themselves are known to be high in Vitamin C and antioxidants, and have a tart taste kind of like a cranberry. These low bushes were a great complement to the taller currents and could be placed along the front of the garden.
In addition to these plants, our front garden meets up with what we call our corner mint patch, which is now more visible and open with the removal of the large evergreen, and around the corner from that is our raised kitchen herb garden. We might even transplant some of our rhubarb to the front garden bed! So, edible landscaping now surrounds about half of our home.
For more information on choosing edible plants for your landscape, we recommend a book called Foodscaping by one of our favorite local gardening experts, Charlie Nardozzi.
To complement the edible components of our garden, we chose two native plants that both help to add visual appeal and add to the ecosystem. We chose as our "anchor plant" a native Red Twig Dogwood (the Ivory Halo) because its beautiful variegated leaves make for a great presentation in the summer, and its striking red stems will remain vibrant in the winter.
In addition, this Dogwood produces white flowers that attract butterflies and berries that birds enjoy, making it an all around winner and easy choice as our central bush.
Around the corner, mixed in with our mint, we added a Viking Chokeberry. While this plant is, technically, edible we consider it in the native category because as the salesperson told us, "there's a reason they call it a chokeberry." We'll try them, but we're not expecting them to taste great!
The chokeberry will grow to about 3-5 feet, making it the "anchor" of this corner of the garden, and adding foliage that will help to camouflage our electrical box (with our solar monitor). It too offers a sequence of flowers for the pollinators and berries that will feed the birds (and maybe us if we like them!), plus nice fall foliage. The salesperson told us that the chokeberry flowers will be some of the earliest to bloom, thus providing early food for our honey bees.
Rounding out our garden are a few perennials that are hold outs from the previous bed - peonies that add a fun summer flair and a rosebush that has been passed down from my husband's grandparents. While the initially-installed garden looks somewhat sparse, our vision is for these plants to grow in size and blend into each other, creating a more wild appearance that is not meant to be tamed with hedge clippers or pruning sheers (other than to keep the currants healthy).