Traditional gardens kept flowers and vegetables separated. Pretty flowers were planted in high-visibility areas, while vegetables were pushed aside into the service area of the yard. The service area was hidden from the public. The "edible landscape" trend has changed all that. Flowers and vegetables are cohabitating together. Oh my!
Edible landscapes are fun and beneficial. Flowers don’t just pretty-up the place; they attract native pollinator, predator and parasitic insects. Approximately 35% of our food requires pollination. Predator and parasitic insects help control pest populations.
"Polyculture," planting a variety of plants, confuses pests as opposed to "monoculture," planting only one plant variety.
Most insect pests have specific hosts and require approximately four appropriate landings before laying eggs on a plant. When a pest lands on the correct host plant, this landing is an appropriate landing. When a pest lands on a plant that is not a host plant, this landing is an inappropriate landing, and the pest flies away. Monoculture makes it easier for pests to find the appropriate host plant.
Traditional gardeners may find polyculture to be chaotic looking or visually less appealing. Employ classic landscape design principles. Plant in clusters with multiples of three or five. Vary the height of plants, and remember that texture is just as important as color. We planted green globe artichoke and Ruby Ann strawberry together in the former petunia bed in the "Smart Garden." It already makes a striking textural combination. I cannot wait to see the plants at maturity.
It is necessary to plant vegetable and ornamental plants with similar growing requirements together. Vegetables need a minimum of six hours of sun, so don’t try planting vegetables in a shade or woodland garden.
It is also necessary to think about critters, such as deer, rabbits, squirrels and other wildlife. Leafy greens, peas and corn are animal magnets. Artichokes, eggplants, onions, peppers and herbs are less appealing to them.
Artichokes have unappealing prickly foliage. Artichokes require a couple weeks of 50-degree weather to initiate flowers and fruit production, so plant early.
The leaves of bean and pepper plants are more attractive to animals than the fruit. Beans can be trellised to add height to the garden and prevent the entire plant from being stripped of leaves. Young pepper transplants are most vulnerable, so hold off on transplanting them until the plants are at least 6 inches tall, or put a cage over the younglings.
Most critters avoid eggplant. Eggplant is beautiful and tasty. The glossy fruit is available in shades of purple, white and green. It varies in shape and size from large exotic orbs to long, thin dangling fingers.
Humans are the only animals that eat alliums — onions, garlic and chives.
Woody herbs, such as sage, oregano, thyme, lemongrass, rosemary and lavender are less desirable than more succulent herbs, such as parsley, basil and cilantro. Mints also tend to be pest-free.
There is an increasing interest in growing our own food, especially in urban areas where space is limited. Mixing flowers and vegetables can save space and prevent pest problems.
Robin Fruth-Dugstad is a horticulture professor at Rochester Community and Technical College with 25 years of experience gardening and landscaping. Send plant and garden questions to email@example.com.