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The Gourmet Landscape: How to Grow a Backyard Garden as Beautiful as It Is Delicious

BY Sandy Lindsey TIMEJune 25, 2022 PRINT

The grow-your-own-food movement is sweeping the country one backyard—and even some front yards—at a time. It’s healthy, fun, budget-friendly, and, if done right, can be downright gorgeous.

The days of horticultural segregation are over, meaning you can start by simply planting a few “ornamedibles” in between your decorative plants, or clearing out those dated shrubs, flowers, or weeds that you’ve been wanting to reimagine for a while now, to create a comprehensive farm-to-table experience.

You can even grow them in containers on a balcony or rooftop; just be sure to check with your landlord or condo board first.

Your New Best Friend

First printed in 1818, the “Farmers’ Almanac” remains the bible for new gardeners and seasoned professionals alike.

Check out the handy USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to find out exactly where you live from an agricultural standpoint. It’s the key to this year’s endeavors and all future planting seasons.

The Almanac’s critically important seasonal weather and frost forecasts, historic weather for your area, and sage advice are now available both in print and in an expanded version with videos on FarmersAlmanac.com.

Glamorous Design

An edible garden is a living, breathing entity that you’ll be moving through a lot as you water, weed, and, best of all, harvest. Keep the planting beds narrow enough so that you can reach into them easily.

One easy way to make them accessible is by laying out decorative pathways throughout. This also gives the benefit of a soft yet manicured look. Another option is to plant around the edge of an open area, such as a patio or lawn. Some gardeners prefer to build raised garden beds; this is a popular choice for people who don’t want to bend a lot or who have difficult soils, such as clay.

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One of the easiest ways to start an edible garden is with culinary herbs. (stockcreations/Shutterstock)

Pretty Seasonings

One of the easiest ways to start an edible garden is with culinary herbs. These can be started from seeds (the planting dates for your agricultural zone will appear on the back of each packet) or starter plants from your local nursery.

Annual herbs are a good choice, such as basil—available in sweet leaf, purple, lemon, Italian, cinnamon, licorice, Thai, and more varieties. They typically don’t tolerate cold temperatures well and will need to be planted every year. Unless you live in a warm-weather zone, you may want to plant them in pots that can be brought inside to make the growing season last a little longer.

Perennial herbs are categorized as “plant once and enjoy.” Attractive options include rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, mint, lemon balm, and chives, as well as parsley, which is actually a biennial, growing for two years.

No matter which plants you choose, harvest your herbs frequently. Contrary to what you might think or have been told, this prompts the plant to produce more foliage that is also denser.

Fancy Fruit and Vibrant Vegetables

Few plants make a garden pop more than ornamental peppers with their eye-catching red, yellow, orange, and even purple displays. Rainbow chard is often used to add delicious yellow, white, pink, and red hues to both salads and the backyard display.

Red cabbage resembles a lush purple rose when it’s ready to be harvested and enjoyed, and flowering kale looks very much like a frilly carnation. Its cousin red Russian kale is famous for its purple oak-like leaves.

Sweet strawberries and cherry tomatoes make an excellent ground cover, while scarlet runner beans add height and drama to any display. Some tomatoes can be trained to grow up a trellis for attractive and easy picking.

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Vibrant peppers can add pops of color to your garden—and eventually, your table. (Hakan Tanak/Shutterstock)

Tall Trees and Sassy Shrubs

Trees offer long-term satisfaction while also providing valuable shade. Dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties are good choices for small yards, but keep in mind that you may need to plant one of each variety for proper pollination. Many varieties will put out a stunning flower display before the fruit sets.

Apple, peach, apricot, orange, avocado, mango, pecan, walnut, chestnut, and more exotic treats such as Asian persimmon have been decorating elegant backyards for decades. While you’re shopping at the nursery, think about using blueberry, blackberry, hazelnut, chestnut, elderberry, pomegranate, Nanking cherry, quince, wild pear, or sea buckthorn for a privacy hedge.

Everyday ‘Ornamedibles’

Violets, nasturtiums, pansies, chrysanthemums, carnations, gladioli, tulips, daylilies (but not the poisonous look-alike tiger lily!), some roses, and even the weed chicory make a delicious addition to any salad. Rinse them gently, but don’t wash away the tasty pollen. Serve immediately, or you can dry them on dish towels, turning daily, or in a dehydrator.

Dianthus flowers can be seeped for wine or used as a cake decoration. French marigolds are aptly named the “poor man’s saffron.” Even the uber popular ground cover hostas can be cooked like asparagus spears—in fact, they’re a member of the asparagus family. The opened leaves make a hearty spinach or lettuce substitute in recipes.

It’s time to make a list of your current plants and do some research—you may be looking at a bumper crop and not even know it.

It’s Not Too Late!

Halloween Decor

Traditionally, pumpkin seeds are planted from late May in the North to early July in the South. If you’re short on time, opt for varieties that need just 75 to 100 frost-free days, versus 120-day-plus heirlooms; or try small squashes that require just 90 days.

Tomato Trick

It’s not too late for tomatoes. The secret is to choose plants that take just 50 to 60 days to mature. If you’re in South Florida, you actually don’t want to plant them before August, as the temperatures before then are too hot; August to February is best.

Popeye Agrees

Add some lush green to your fading yard by planting some spinach this fall. The plants will love the shorter, cooler days and the reduction in garden pests. Plan so that you harvest just before the first frost. This may be your tastiest spinach ever.

Sandy Lindsey is an award-winning writer who covers home, gardening, DIY projects, pets, and boating. She has two books with McGraw-Hill.
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