Edible landscaping saves money, homeowners find

Flowers are giving way to vegetables – even in the front yard.

By , Associated Press writers

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    COLORFUL: The burgundy bush beans grown by Allison Collins of Columbus, Ohio, show that vegetables can be as attractive in a front yard as flowers.
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Tidy lawns have been replaced by a jumble of hot peppers, tomatoes, peas, peaches, berries and plums in the front yards of two next-door neighbors.

And that’s just a sampling.

“What aren’t we growing?” said Kelly Sandman, who along with her neighbors dug up their front lawns in April and planted fruits and vegetables.

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An increasing, albeit small, number of people are trying edible landscaping — growing fruits and vegetables mixed in with traditional, ornamental flowers — to save money on food, eat healthier and ensure their fresh food is safe.

It goes beyond the traditional garden. Broccoli and cabbage plants are popping up in flower beds once occupied by tulips and daisies.

Some are using fruit trees or edible plants as fences, replacing hedges with raspberry bushes or screening backyard pools with towering stalks of sweet corn.

The idea goes back centuries, to times when people sustained themselves with food they grew on their own and filled every corner of their land with edible plants. But with the mass production of food, the practice gave way to manicured lawns.

Horticulture experts and extension agents say there is now interest in returning to those roots. They’re fielding more questions about edible landscaping and seeing waiting lists for classes this summer.

“It’s a way of reinventing the landscape,” said Jack Algiere, who runs the produce operation and teaches workshops at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

An easy way to start is to plant a fruit tree instead of an ornamental tree. Or put some tomato or pepper plants in a flower bed.

Take it a step further and create a fence or boundary with a grape arbor or pole beans.

Judy Arnett planted tomatoes and peppers in containers to create a natural screen around her deck at her home in Hilliard, a Columbus suburb.

“By the end of summer it gives me a 4-foot wall of plants, and I can step out of my kitchen and grab a tomato,” she said.

The four neighbors in Columbus who tore up their grass were inspired after three of them took a course on permaculture, a philosophy for living with the earth and nature in a more self-sustaining way.

Their biggest worry was what their neighbors would think. Reactions ranged from stunned to curious to “Wow, this is fantastic!”

“We’ve actually met and talked to more of our neighbors in the last four months than we have in the eight years we’ve been here,” said Mike Sandman.

The garden has become “a little bit of a tourist spot on the trip to the bike path at the end of our street,” said Allison Collins. “First people had questions, now they have encouragement. Occasionally, they even bring plants for us.”

And it’s saved money on groceries and time mowing the yard. Ms. Collins and her husband, Justin Rooney, estimate they’ve saved $250 on groceries since May, and they’re making fewer trips to the store.

That’s a big plus considering the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has jumped by 5 percent from a year ago, according to the US Department of Agriculture. And tomatoes, a hardy garden staple, are up 22 percent.

Growing fruits and vegetables does require effort. There’s watering, weeding, pruning, and dealing with pests.

But gardeners don’t have to give up color when they swap flowers with veggies. Red-jewel cabbage, yellow peppers, and rainbow chard all will have yards popping with color.

“We don’t need to limit ourselves on what our gardens contain,” said Linda Ugelow, who has a slew of fruits and vegetables filling her half-acre yard in Bedford, Mass.

There are apricots, mulberries, raspberries, peaches, and strawberries in her yard that go into pies, jams and juice. She even uses violet leaves and lambs quarters, two common weeds, in soups. “Should we ever need to depend on it, we have a lot of greens,” she said.

Seed companies and garden suppliers say sales are up this year.

Sales of vegetable seeds and plants are up 40 percent at W. Atlee Burpee & Co., one of the nation’s pioneer seed catalog companies, said George Ball, chairman, president, and chief executive officer.

A dime spent on seeds produces about $1 worth of vegetables, and that margin is growing because of rising food prices, he said.

Sales of gardening products have increased by 11 percent at Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., the lawn and garden company based in Marysville.

One reason is because of edible landscaping, a growing trend, according to the company’s research.

“Some of the hard to grow junipers that might not be as pretty and as productive as some of the edible plants, people are pulling those out and planting blueberries and blackberries and strawberries,” said Keith Baeder, senior vice president at Scotts.

“Blueberries and blackberries come back year after year,” he said. “So they’re really great low-maintenance opportunities to grow big, beautiful fruits in your garden.”

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