Container gardening
Credit: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Lise Servant)
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The first thing that comes to mind when we decide to grow edible plants is a kitchen garden hidden from public view in the back yard. But there’s another way to do it. More and more gardeners are creating landscape arrangements made up partly or completely of useful and edible plants.

Adding to an existing garden

A lot of them simply add food plants to the layout they already have. It’s easy enough to introduce a few chive or sage seedlings into a flowerbed of perennials, or a Swiss chard into some potted annuals. Or you can put in strawberry bushes at the base of a shrub that produces edible fruit (gooseberry, black current, hazelnut) and that way create a small working bed or border – nutritional and delicious.

100 percent edible

Some people take it a step further and create gardens consisting exclusively of useful plants. In most cases they go for hardy perennial plants so as to have a garden that’s low-maintenance. They opt for fruit and nut trees and shrubs, as well as edible, aromatic and medicinal perennials. That approach often means gardeners will be growing plants they’re not in the habit of consuming, like tree onions (Allium cepa [gr. Proliferum]), sea kale (Crambe maritima) or Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus). A garden of conventional vegetables can also be incorporated into it, to be more intensely cultivated.

Ecological gardens

In a garden devoted to edible plants, each component serves multiple purposes. For instance, in addition to its pretty flowers and its fruit, the apple tree provides shade, feeds pollinators, and serves as a perch for birds.

Each element in the garden must, as far as possible, work in harmony with the others. The principal of the three sisters, prized by Native peoples, is a good example of a harmonious combination. Grown together, corn, climbing beans and squash each enjoy the beneficial effects of the other two. The broad foliage of the squash, a natural ground cover, keeps the soil cool and moist; corn stalks serve as stakes for climbing beans; and those beans, like all legumes, enrich the soil with nitrogen, which is in turn beneficial to squash and corn seedlings.

Landscaping in its most sophisticated form calls for the acquisition of knowledge and some careful planning. But with a little curiosity and perseverance, it’s possible to achieve self-sustaining ecosystems inspired by nature.

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