Beautiful Edible Gardens

There is a perception in modern society that food gardens are ugly. I'm going to offer a different perspective.

When you look around suburbia you see manicured lawns, ornamental trees and shrubs, and hedges trimmed to perfection. Apart from the odd lemon tree, veggie gardens, if they exist, are kept out of sight behind the house. Street trees are for looks and shade only.

All these tidy gardens are expensive to buy, create and maintain, and yet they produce few useful products. The kids can play on a patch of lawn occasionally (hopefully no toxic chemicals have been used). Trees can provide some shelter from the wind and sun. Hedges create privacy. The space looks nice. We can do much better and still create a beautiful garden.

The first thing to realise is that there are plants that are attractive and in addition, almost for nothing, produce food! You can have your ornamental garden and eat it too. People are willing to pay several dollars a kilogram for fruit at the supermarket. Why not plant a tree that may produce a hundred odd kilograms of fruit each year? You don't even need to drive to the shop! Selective pruning can sculpt the tree into a handsome specimen that provides good shade and access. Examples of ornamental edible species good in the sub-tropics are grumichama, jaboticaba, monstera deliciosa (fruit salad plant), acerola cherry, avocado, persimmon, pomegranate, and star apple.

 

Star apple
The star apple has a brilliant orange/gold under side while the top side is a deep glossy green. The purble globe-like fruits are described as 'caramel vanilla milkshake flavour.' It has some medicinal properties, and the timber is great for furniture and cabinets. You need a fair amount of space for this one as it can grow to 30m. Photo: Joseph Wong.

 

Jaboticaba
Jaboticaba produces fuzzy yellow flowers over the trunks before a prolific crop of grape like, tropical flavoured fruit. It's a pretty tree with fine foliage and can be hedged.
Photo copyright All You Can Eat Gardens.

 

Grumichama
Grumichama produces lovely glossy broad foliage and sweet, cherry like fruit.
Photo copyright All You Can Eat Gardens.

 

Vegetable gardens are a different story. Typically in boring rows on the ground, shaggy looking plants, leaves full of holes from the pests. Is there any hope? Lets be honest - annuals will decline and look badly at the end of their life. Then its time for them to go in the chicken yard or compost! Perennials (long lived plants) have an advantage here - they will look good for many years and they also take less work to maintain.

Vegies are great fun and delicious, though, so what can we do if we want to grow them? We can start by growing a variety of annuals and trees mixed together. This is called a polyculture. It just so happens that the more biodiverse the ecosystem, the stronger the plants are and the fewer pests we have. Adding flowering plants attracts predatory insects that prey on pests, and bees that help pollinate your fruit and vegies. The old classic cottage flower alyssum is great at this. Consider it a bonus that flowers make the garden look pretty.

 

Nasturtium

The cheery Nasturtium attracts bees and other insects, helping to make your garden more stable. It's also completely edible. The flowers make a pretty addition to salads!

 

During their short life annuals can flourish and produce quite a vibrant garden - one that draws you in to discover its secrets. Who doesn't enjoy watching beans pushing out of the ground, the first peas develop and seeing lady birds crawling over the plants? Bunches of ripening tomatoes can bring a smile to anyone's face.

 

Herbs
A herb garden can produce a fascinating carpet of delicious looking foliage. Here we have curley leaf parsley and oregano with sage in the background.
Photo copyright All You Can Eat Gardens.

 

If it's important to you it is possible to dress the space up with raised beds, nice edging material, paving and ornamental pots and fences. Laying out the garden can be both functional and aesthetic. Raised beds improve drainage, keep out some running weeds and raise the working height. These don't have to cost the earth. Recycled and on-site materials such as rocks, logs, roofing iron and timber often have a lot of character. Overhead trellising shades and cools you and the plants below, reducing evaporation, as well as being visually interesting.

 

All You Can Eat Garden
A central urn hosting a dwarf lemon becomes a focus of this garden, while raised beds add character. The owner wanted some symmetry - the paving and the geometric shapes all make it feel somewhat Victorian but with a distinct Australian flavour. The bench allows visitors to relax and enjoy the garden.
Photo copyright All You Can Eat Gardens.

 

 

Pond
This pond was designed for the enjoyment of the owner, but it is packed with edible and medicinal species. Chinese water chestnut, taro, pickeral rush, kang kong, lebanese cress, water cress, gotu kola, comfrey and silver perch (which control mosquitos). The rocks were all on site but rearranged in an interesting way. The one in the front right acts as a seat to watch the pond in quiet contemplation. Bromeliads add colour and interest, but are also frog habitat, which keeps insect populations down. Photo: All You Can Eat Gardens.

 

Kang Kong
Kang kong trails playfully out over a pond and catches the morning light. It sends fine roots down into the water. The leaves are tasty, much more nutritious than lettuce and far easier to grow. Photo: All You Can Eat Gardens.

 

Look around you and see all the space that can be used to grow food. Picture neighbours swapping fresh produce over fences. Happy people feeding themselves with healthy food. Wouldn't you call that beautiful?