My wife has often accused me of being a practical person. In fact, in many situations she considers me too practical. I tell her I have to have at least two reasons for doing anything and that sometimes upsets her. When it comes to landscaping, I think there are very practical reasons for having two reasons for planting any plant.
Edible plants in the garden give the two reasons needed. First, they are attractive if used correctly, and second, they produce food to eat. Edible landscaping uses the garden growing space to produce many different kinds of crops. I'm not suggesting that anyone plow up their parking strip and violate the law by planting potatoes, nor should they devote their entire lawn to tomatoes, or grow corn instead of petunias. However, there are many practical, dual-purpose plants. As you spruce up your yard and get ready for fall planting, look for dual-purpose plants for now and next spring.The landscape criteria for plants considers the plant size, form, texture and color. Adding the fifth criterion of being edible eliminates many plants but opens up other interesting possibilities. When planting edibles in your yard, first consider where they will be used. Ground covers are low-growing plants that cover large areas. Edible ground covers can't be walked on but they will spread and look very nice. Annual ground covers include sweet potatoes and peanuts, while perennial ground covers include creeping mints, thyme, strawberries or camomile. Edible border or flower bed plants include interesting vegetables and herbs. Herbs that have attractive foliage include basil, borage, parsley, chives and sage. Other attractive flowering herbs include many of the geraniums, marjoram, oregano, sweet woodruff and wintergreen. Tuck them in the flower beds and get a harvest from the area without diminishing the beauty of the beds.
Edible shrubbery adds another interesting dimension to the garden. Shrubs that produce edible fruit include dwarf almonds, bush plums, sand cherries, currants, gooseberries, quince and others. Many have attractive flowers, leaves and fall color. Genetic dwarf apples, pears, peaches and nectarines can also be used as small shrubs or as edible hedges. Some of the most attractive hedges I have seen are dwarf apple trees trimmed to create a beautiful hedge. Dwarf pears likewise do well in an espalier or formal hedge situation. For a more natural hedge, use the same dwarf fruit trees, as well as elderberries, shrub roses (to produce edible rose hips) and nut plants such as the filberts. Raspberries and blackberries can also be used as informal hedges, although their growth needs to be confined.
Vines are also an important landscape addition. Annual vines include cantaloupes, cucumbers, watermelons and squash, as well as the usual Oriental vegetables such as bitter melons, luffa gourds and others. Pole beans make attractive, edible vines, as do scarlet runner beans.
Additional edible vines include snow peas and hardy kiwi. Hardy kiwis grow quickly but don't produce much fruit. Attractive borders also include bush beans, cabbages (including the flowering type), bush cantaloupe or cucumbers, chard, eggplants, endive, kale, peppers, rhubarb or summer squash.
Grapes are the most common edible vine in landscapes. While they make attractive coverings for fences and other areas, make provisions for pruning. Otherwise they become so massive and so overgrown the fruit is inaccessible and not worth harvesting.
Apricots top my list as the most desirable dual-purpose tree. The foliage is attractive, and fresh apricots make a wonderful summer treat. In addition, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and cherries can all be grown as landscape plants. Peaches are probably the least desirable, as the trees are short-lived and really aren't very attractive. For really large trees, use walnuts and pecans for shade and nuts.
Vegetables make interesting additions to the landscape. Red Swiss chard has a beautiful leaf and blends well with flowers. Eggplants with different colored fruits also make a colorful garden plant. Some varieties of okra produce a red pod that is also attractive. Don't overlook plants with edible flowers such as nasturtiums and day lilies, and consider other unusual plants, including prickly pears, saf-fron and Jerusalem artichokes. Endive is another attractive vegetable with different kinds of foliage, textures and colors. Curly leaf and romaine-type lettuces are also nice, and red sails, an All American winner, has a beautiful red fruit.
Practicality does not have to be the dominant issue in plant selection. If the plant has no edible function, you can still plant it for two reasons. First, it is attractive, and second, you like it. Stretch your range and knowledge of edible plants each year. Grow some that you have not grown before and learn to enjoy them in your garden and diet. Your reasons may be different than mine but everyone can enjoy the beauty and the taste of edible plants.