Part 4 Plants for Horticultural Applications

33 Plants for Edible Landscapes

Learning Objectives

  • Describe plants suitable for edible landscapes.

As part of green infrastructure, gardening for food production offers a wide range of environmental, economic, and social benefits. Growing local food within and around communities supports:

  • habitat for pollinators and biodiversity,
  • regulation of local climate and water management,
  • reduction of energy use and carbon footprints,
  • food security and local economy, and
  • physical health and social connections.

Urban agriculture is the process of growing, processing, and distributing local food and food products. There are many types of urban agriculture including community gardens, boulevard planting, green roofs, vertical farms, urban chickens, bee keeping, aquaculture, and small scale faming for farmers markets. Some other forms of food production are edible landscapes, food forests, urban orchards, gleaning (public land harvest), grow a row donations and backyard sharing, and guerrilla gardening. Figure 10.1 shows an example of products of urban agriculture available for purchase at a farmers market. Read more about the benefits and different types of urban agriculture at this link to The Urban Farmer [New Tab][1]

Figure 10.1 Example of urban agriculture products at a farmers market stall
Figure 10.1 Example of urban agriculture products for sale at a farmers market stall

Communities plan and manage urban agriculture through policies, zoning bylaws, and land use regulations that allow certain public green spaces to be used for growing food. For example, community gardens for non-commercial food production that are allowed in some or all land use designations will have guidelines for safety, accessibility, maintenance, and aesthetics. Review an example of a community garden policy at this link to Revised 2019_Community Gardens Policy[PDF][New Tab].[2]

Food production in residential landscapes is commonly associated with vegetable plots in backyards. Annual species grown for produce are usually arranged in agricultural patterns of straight lines in designated areas. Soil is often amended with compost, heavily irrigated, and seasonally tilled over for new planting. In contrast, edible landscapes, sometimes called foodscapes, incorporate plants for food as well as ornamental value within existing and new residential and public landscape designs. In general, plants for edible landscapes are herbaceous and woody perennial species that:

  • are adapted for the climate and naturally resistant to pest and disease,
  • require less intensive or similar levels of maintenance and inputs as the rest of the planting area, and
  • provide multiple benefits such as food, aesthetics, shading, and water management.

Plants selected for preferred foods and the attributes of form, texture, and colour are integrated with other ornamental plants to achieve a desired garden style and aesthetic appearance. For example, the fruit producing tree, Morus alba ‘Pendula’ (weeping mulberry) serves as a specimen plant with distinctive form. Shrubs with berries and vibrant autumn foliage colour like Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry) may be planted as hedging. Edible spreaders like Fragaria x ananassa (garden strawberry) and Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen) provide ground cover while vegetables with fine texture foliage like Daucus carota ssp. sativus (carrot) contrast coarse texture plants like Rheum palmatum (rhubarb). Aromatic herbs such as Origanum laevigatum ‘Herrenhausen’ and Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) provide structure, scent, and visual interest alongside edible flowers like Impatiens walleriana (impatiens) and Phlox paniculata (summer phlox, border phlox). Learn more information about the origins, benefits, maintenance, and types of plants for edible landscapes available at this link to Foodscaping-Wikipedia [New Tab].[3]


Recognize plants for edible landscapes.

Techniques that maximize space use and vegetation cover such as interplanting larger, slow growing food plants with smaller, fast growing plants reduce soil erosion and suppress opportunistic weeds. Combining plants with different heights and structure, nutrient requirements, and rooting depths creates growing microclimates and reduces plant competition for soil nutrients. Certain companion plants such as members of the Fabaceae (pea) family that fix atmospheric nitrogen in available forms in root nodules can benefit nearby nitrogen feeders like leafy vegetables. Aromatic herbs can be used to repel pests attracted to other species by smell, and the deliberate planting of host plants distract pests from other plants and attract beneficial insects and predators that feed on pests. Read more information about the benefits of companion planting available at this link to Companion planting – Wikipedia [New Tab].[4]

Edible landscapes that are intended to provide food products for human consumption are distinguished from planted habitats that are intended to attract wildlife. As areas of natural ecosystems are converted to residential, agricultural, industrial, and other uses, the loss of habitat negatively impacts native wildlife. However, where fragments or patches of habitat are not too small and are close together, they can be connected by corridors of vegetation that allow native species to access adequate food, water, shelter and protection. Planting regional native plants that mimic the habitat characteristics of the desired wildlife species in landscapes and gardens can provide the particular needs for food, water, shelter and protection.

Creating connections between native and ornamental vegetation and water sources in urban forests, parks, gardens, boulevards, and other plantings allows wildlife to move safely among habitat patches in urban areas. For example, evergreen trees like Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese cedar) with branches close to the ground and deciduous trees with open canopies and multiple branches such as Frangula purshiana (cascara), and Prunus padus var. commutata (European bird cherry) offer shelter and protection, as well as nesting sites and food. Interplanting layers of shrubs like Ribes alpinum (alpine currant), Ribes sanguineum (flowering currant, winter currant), and Rubus spectabilis (salmonberry) with herbaceous species like Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem), Asarum caudatum (western wild ginger), and Polystichum munitum (western sword fern) provides a range of wildlife species with food, shelter, and protection. Review images of plant examples at this link to KPU Plant Database [New Tab].[5] Learn more about gardening for wildlife habitat available at this link to Fraser Valley Conservancy Native Plants Guide[PDF][New Tab].[6]

Habitat loss and invasive species are major threats to wildlife habitats, particularly in wetlands and forests. Selecting ornamental plants for habitat planting includes examining the potential for species to escape, establish, and overtake natural ecosystems. Non-invasive ornamentals and regional native plants are the responsible alternative to invasive plants. For example, an introduced horticultural plant that has become invasive in wetlands is Butomus umbellatus (flowering rush). Alternate choices for this plant include the native species Scirpus microcarpus (small-flowered bulrush), Carex spp. (sedges), and Sagittaria latifolia (wapato, arrowhead).  Alternate choices for another invasive, Euphorbia esula (green spurge, leafy spurge) include species in the genera Delosperma (ice plant) and Helianthemum (rock rose). Species in the genera Salvia (sage), and Penstemon (beardtongue) provide alternate choices for the invasive species, Echium vulgare (blueweed). Another invasive species, Linaria vulgaris (toadflax) can be replaced with selections from the genera Penstemon (beardtongue), Hemerocallis (daylily), Antirrhinum (snapdragon), and Kniphofia (torch lily). Learn more about the threat of invasive horticultural plants and alternative plant choices at this link to Invasive Species Council of BC Grow Me Instead [PDF] [New Tab].[7]


Name the invasive species. Move the cursor over the image to check your response.


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Red Seal Landscape Horticulturist Identify Plants and Plant Requirements Copyright © 2020 by Michelle Nakano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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