Saturday, 21 January 2012

Edible Landscapes


When I look at life today and see how much it has changed in my lifetime, I have the benefit of over sixty years of change for comparison. We live in a modern high tech world where wealth plays a major role as there is so much to spend it on. We all want a nice house, one or two cars, at least one holiday a year, plenty food, drink and entertainment and to get our kids the best education. This puts a lot of pressure on people to find and keep jobs and work longer hours.  To save time and effort we shop at supermarkets, buy ready made meals and travel by car rather than walk.
It is recognised that this lifestyle is not the healthiest option for our wellbeing or the planet, so more and more people are making the effort to get fit, grow and eat better food and recycle waste.
Builders no longer create new houses with much garden space, so those wishing to grow their own food often look for an allotment. That may be fine for a few keen gardeners, but there is a need to look beyond the individual.
It is no longer fashionable to send your kids to the country in summer to pick raspberries and strawberries and potatoes in the autumn. That would be viewed as punishment. There is a recognised need to educate our kids in the way we grow and use food crops and animals in a way they will find entertaining and informative.
More and more local communities and schools are addressing this need by creating edible landscapes within the schools as well as other outdoor landscape areas. This movement is in its infancy, but it is becoming very popular. Landscapes today need not just be planted with ornamental vandal tolerant plants but use of edible plants can provide the same function and still be aesthetically attractive.

Community and school gardens

These projects are all about educating people in how plants are grown, used and enjoyed, and getting involved working together as communities. Kids love to see where our food comes from, to try them out when ripe, grow them from seeds, cuttings or small plants, and see where plants can be used for dyes, basket making, fibres, brushes, fuel, soap, insecticide, fertiliser and numerous other uses. Some rural community gardens also include keeping hens for egg production. This is always popular with kids.
The principles that apply to normal landscape design will also apply to this type of project, i.e. plants will still function as trees, hedges, shrubs, fruit and vegetables, medicinal herbs, ground cover, and climbers. Plants will also be selected for sunny spots, shady spots, and those needing dry or damp soil. However the selection will be based on how the plants can be used in a useful living community.

Forest gardens

This is a further development and may be on a larger scale within a woodland setting, but plants chosen are useful or edible and form a woodland flora from the taller canopy trees such as walnut, sweet chestnut and edible lime trees to the forest floor layers such as blueberries and wild garlic.
Other layers form at shrubby levels, herbaceous types and those that prefer woodland fringe or forest clearings. There are also many edible plants that prefer a pond or bog garden from watercress to reeds, cranberries, white water lily, and other plants that have edible rhizomes, leaves, fruit and seeds. Always make sure you can identify the plant accurately as some may be poisonous in the raw state.
It is the aim to grow a very wide range of useable plants in a permanent setting without soil cultivations but recycling plant materials by composting. It is feasible for a family of four to feed themselves from an acre of woodland and without any harm to the environment. As the woodland is permanent it has a very low maintenance requirement.
More information on forest gardens can be found at

Edible plants
We are all familiar with the obvious apples, pears, plums and cherries, but there is also mulberries, hazelnuts, saskatoons, chokeberries, quince, medlar, fuchsia, figs and hardy outdoor grapes.
There is no reason why other edible fruit and vegetables cannot be added into the landscape plan. Brambles, Tayberries and loganberries make excellent climbers, and currants, raspberries and gooseberries will form good hedges.
Plants with edible leaves include lime trees, nettles, sorrel, bamboo (shoots), campanula, and wild garlic, and the list of herbs and medicinal plants is enormous. We use rosemary, thyme, sage and mint for flavouring many meat dishes and kale and Swiss chard are excellent in a stir fry.
Food for free landscape designs can incorporate any type of plant from edibles to those that have other functions, but the skill is in creating an attractive landscape that functions as well.
A lot of research on edible and usable plants has been done by Ken and Addy Fern on their experimental site in Cornwall. They have over 7000 species of plants on their database.
Their website Plants for a Future is a mine of information.


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