Landscapes rely on easy to care for trees, shrubs, perennials, and sometimes for the home gardener annuals and potted arrangements to come together.
Trees are often the foundations of the landscape after the home itself. Plenty of fruiting trees that make good crops also make fantastic landscape trees. Many cherries, apples, pears, apricots, citrus, peaches, pawpaw and plums are prime examples. Many are breathtaking the in the spring, beautiful in form, and they produce delicious fruit. There are many cultivars of fruiting trees with different growth heights at maturity, and all take well to pruning and shaping. Fruiting trees are passed often as landscape options in many landscapes because they can be messy, but this is only a problem if you’re not going to harvest the fruit from them. As edible landscape trees, most all fruiting trees are excellent landscape candidates.
Some less commonly known but very wonderful landscape fruit bearing trees include crabapples (they make the best jams and jellies!), hackberry (jams and jellies), and persimmon (can be used for anything and are absolutely delicious). Again, all take to shaping and are lovely in form. Crabapples often have glorious fall color, as do hackberry. Persimmon trees hold onto their fruit past leaf drop and are very ornamental in branching structure.
Nut bearing trees are also good landscape candidates where a large and stately tree is needed. Black walnut may come to mind but this would be the only exception in the landscape as they produce a very potent toxin that kills many species of plants within their root zone and beyond. An alternative tree that is making a much welcome comeback in the landscape is the Butternut. They look a lot like the stately black walnut but don’t possess as potent of a plant growth inhibitor in its root system. The nuts are also delicious. There are now disease resistant butternuts available. Hazelnut blooms when nothing else blooms and sports beautiful foliage in the fall. They are very small for trees, almost shrub like in proportion, which makes them very valuable from a design standpoint. Pecans and hickory, and some chestnuts will make good landscape trees as well.
There are so many flowering shrubs with delicious edible crops that are beautiful landscape specimens, that shopping for edible landscape shrubs may be more of confusing experience. In an effort to make the decision making task easier, we’ve picked a few of our favorites. These shrubs take to shearing and pruning; have beautiful bloom, foliage form and color, fall color, and popular edible crops.
Blueberries are absolutely wonderful edible landscape plants. They are not as difficult to grow as many seem to think. There are many cultivars that range in form and color and fruiting. From extremely small and compact mounded forms to large and sprawling and tall forms, blueberries come in many flavors. Add some peat into each initial planting hole and mulch with compost or pine needles is all the pH adjustment they need, nothing complicated. They all bear adorable and sweetly scented spring flowers of pink and white. They all have attractive bushy foliage in a nice pleasing green, sometimes new growth being red or pink. They all bear delicious blue or pink fruit in the summer. And they all glow brilliantly red in the fall. They are super hardy, doing well in most all climates, even the coldest areas.
Elderberry has come to the forefront as a very potent and powerful natural medicine. It also happens to be a beautiful plant well suited to the landscape. There are cultivars available with purple foliage too, making them a striking addition to the landscape (especially when planted among chartreuse colors of foliage in other plants). The leaf form is lovely and unusual. The flowers are heavily fragrant and very attractive to pollinators. The berries are easily made into jams and jellies and juices. While often treated as a large perennial, they can reach shrub like proportions in one season and they need lots of space to spread out. They are super easy to grow, and as a native plant you’re doing your local ecology a favor by using elderberry in your landscape. You will need to plant more than one elderberry to ensure good fruit set. They prefer full sun but can tolerate some shade with grace. They don’t like to dry out so they’re not for xeriscaping or areas of the landscape that get dry.
Viburnums are common in the landscape as they are wonderful shrubs for all of the reasons we love landscape plants- great habit, form, colors, and variance in cultivars. Specifically for the edible landscape, the American Cranberry Bush, or Viburnum trilobum, is an especially valuable edible landscape shrub selection. The berries aren’t especially eaten fresh, but again they are very delightful as a jelly or jam. Another North American native plant, birds love them as well. Viburnums can handle more shade than other shrubs, and makes a great understory plant.
Pine typically brings thoughts of gigantic tall trees and this is fairly accurate to assume- but pine now comes in so many cultivars that work as shrubs in the landscape that it’s dizzying. Mugo pine specifically is well suited for landscape use as is very popular. Better too is, you can get a great yearly crop of delicious pine nuts from mugo pine! There are many forms and colors of mugo pine, so you’ll have a good time shopping for some evergreen material to suit your edible landscape perfectly.
Shrub roses are very old garden shrubs and plants. Fuller and easier to grow types of roses work well in the landscape, and leave behind very edible and delicious rose hips for harvest. Rose hips are very high in vitamin C and can be made into teas and jams. Rose hips make excellent extracts like rosewater that can then be used in cooking, and even in homemade cleaning products and room fresheners. Roses themselves require aggressive pruning but otherwise are fairly undemanding. The blooms are a delight, and many new cultivars of landscape roses are extremely hardy, disease resistant, and beautiful. Rosa rugosa is a native version of an excellent landscape and native rose that’s healthy and disease resistant, and leaves behind big red and pink hips in the fall.
In warmer areas, rosemary can grow to shrub like sizes and makes a great shrub. And of course, rosemary is an essential in cooking. You can also use rosemary in homemade cleaning products- especially in homemade soaps where it’s scent works well for masculine (or not of course) scented bars and the needles themselves make for wonderful exfoliators. Rosemary is usually grown as a perennial, but can naturalize in warm enough areas in bright sun. It can tolerate some drying out but enjoys consistent moisture.
If you thought your edible landscape choices with trees and shrubs was liberating, wait until you start looking at perennial choices. There are so many perennial edibles out there, most notably for herb usage. Some common perennial herbs perfect for landscapes include rosemary (mentioned above as a shrub but can easily be kept as a smaller perennial), sage, thyme, oregano, chives, ginger (in warm areas), and lavender. Mint is a very hardy and aggressive perennial, but its spreading nature doesn’t always make it a good landscape plant. Mint is better kept planted in pots and contained. Agastache is a less common yet very wonderful herb that makes an excellent landscape plant. So is tough Echinacea with its beautiful blooms, which now come in many colors aside from purple and white. Cheyenne Spirit is an Echinacea mix with red, orange, coral, yellow, and other colors that warm up the landscape with long lasting blooms. You can use the blooms and leaves of all these plants for culinary uses and other countless jobs around the house.
There are plenty of perennial plants that are not herbal in nature, but offer vegetable foods. Artichoke is a beautiful perennial in warmer climates. It’s very unusual and stately form make for a great focal plant. Harvest the flowers before they bloom, as that’s the artichoke you eat. Asparagus, or what we know as asparagus, comes up early in the spring as a thick spear (that’s the part we eat), but leaving some of the spears alone to grow and develop the rest of the season rewards you with tall and wispy foliage that contrasts and fills in well among other plants. Edible rhubarb is a large leaved plant that can be harvested in the early spring for its stalks. Super hardy, its one perennial crop enjoyed in the coldest of climates and is most popular paired with strawberries (another great perennial edible for the landscape) in pies. There is ornamental rhubarb that is even larger and more impressive than the type that is commonly grown in gardens, and while those are edible as well they are larger and woodier. Various cold hardy cabbages and kale are highly ornamental and provide delicious and nutritious greens through the season. They easily reseed in most areas and are great at filling in areas. The blooms when allowed to bolt in the warm season are 4 petaled, often yellow or purple, and very pretty.
Strawberry plants are often overlooked in the landscape as they are typically cultivated in gardens and on farms for their fruit, but if you look at strawberries in full low growing and spreading mounds of pretty green foliage, you will see that they also make a great landscape ground cover. Many varieties do need some controlling measures as they are good at spreading, but this can also be of advantage in the landscape where bare spots are hard to cover.
Daylily plants are very popular landscape plants, but not a lot of people know that the blooms of daylily are very edible and tasty. Mild, crunchy, and of course floral, they are wonderful in salads or even on sandwiches. Daylilies are hardy and not picky and are grown everywhere. There are many forms and colors and sizes of daylilies. One can spend an entire week looking at online catalogs of daylilies from breeders. The most popular, most affordable, and the most versatile daylily that’s stood the test of time still happens to be the Stella D’Oro.
Ornamental annuals can be more than petunias and impatiens. There are many annual plants that have edible leaves and flowers that work perfectly in the landscape. For example, pansies and violas have blooms that are very edible and beautiful. If anything, they make elegant garnish. Freeze violas in ice cubes and drop a viola filled cube into a cup of hot or cold tea for a beautiful accent. Candy viola blooms in sugar for storage and use them later on cakes. Pansies and violas come back yearly in most areas, but they are typically treated as annuals. They like full sun and in warm areas benefit from shade. They are easily grown in pots but naturalize beautifully in borders. Other highly ornamental annual flowers that work great in the landscape are nasturtiums and calendula. Nasturtiums can be small and mounding, or long and trailing. Calendula is usually orange, daisy-like, and is wonderful as garnish, in salads, or in drinks. Both Nasturtiums and calendula may be available in the spring in flats, but usually are easily directly seeded into the landscape. Fun with kids!
Lettuce can be an absolutely stunning leafy landscape annual, wonderful in the front of the border. Lettuces come in many colors and patterns and textures. They look best in the cooler seasons, but can easily be reseeded if thy bolt and become unsightly. An alternative to lettuce that performs all season long and is just as tasty and even more nutritious is orach. Orach is a relative of the common weed “lambs quarters” but is also related to spinach. Orach is usually sold as seed, and comes in colors of bright pink, red, green, and chartreuse.
And finally, we come to vines. Vines offer a neat opportunity to try something slightly unusual, as many ornamental landscape vines are also highly edible and beautiful, but aren’t well known. Hops are one excellent example. Hops are used in beer making. They are the green flowers on a delicate little vine that’s well behaved and super hardy. Hops love to climb fencing. Another very easy to care for and hardy vine that makes delicious food is the kiwi. The hardy kiwi version of the kiwi many of us are familiar with makes smaller fruits, but they are certainly delicious. Hardy kiwi comes as male and female plants, and you need both to make fruit. They often have green foliage that’s splashed with bright bubblegum pink. Kiwi vines grow large, so they need a large support- over 10 feet if possible.
There are plenty of edible landscape plant selections! Not to be overlooked and very useful, consider putting your beautiful landscape to work for you and your family.