Elegant Edible Garden Design

Get garden design inspiration with these expert tips from Barbara Pleasant and lovely images from botanical gardens.

| January/February 2016

  • In Kansas City’s Powell Gardens, banana trees offer a bold contrast with lower-growing flowers.
    Photo courtesy Powell Gardens
  • Steal design ideas from the pros by visiting botanic gardens and noting design styles. Here, the Herb Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden combines leafy edibles with soft herbs.
    Photo by Rebecca Bullene courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Convert hills or slopes into plantable territory with retaining walls or terraced steps. Here, asters tumble over a wall at Kansas City’s Powell Gardens.
    Photo courtesy Powell Gardens
  • At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, stunning planted archways provide drama.
    Photo by Antonio M. Rosario courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Multiple varieties of lilacs make a rainbow of purple at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
    Photo by Rebecca Bullene courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • In the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Rock Garden, interplanting large boulders with soft colors and spiky succulents creates variety and interest.
    Photo by Antonio M. Rosario courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, every veggie and herb garden is a marvelous sight. At the same time, we tend to regard our food gardens as utilitarian space, planned to produce good things to eat rather than delighting the senses of every visitor. Why not have it all? When we looked for inspired ideas for food gardens, we found plenty—some from designers, and many from resourceful gardeners like you.

Define the Bones

In landscape design lingo, structural elements such as walkways, fences or permanent raised beds are often called a garden’s bones. The easiest time to see and analyze your garden’s bones is in winter. The bones bring a sense of organization to the scene; as you consider yours, keep in mind the practical—for example, how a path will give you access to pick peppers in August—and the design elements, including shape, placement, repetition and materials. Make sure to check out the views you see most often with a critical eye. What you see from your kitchen window is just as important as the view from the street.

Foot-friendly walkways, low retaining walls that turn slopes into terraces, or gates or archways that structure the space will make any garden more inviting. Where they are practical, gentle curves help offset the straight lines that define most houses and yards. Summer brings endless possibilities for camouflaging flaws in your home or view, whether you grow a tall hedge of corn or sunflowers to hide an ugly air-conditioning unit, or smother a chain-link fence with robust raspberries.

Unify with Color

Every veggie garden needs flowers to provide nectar and pollen for beneficial insects, and a defined color palette will give a jumbled vegetable garden a stronger sense of unity. For example, if you buy one six-pack each of white sweet alyssum seedlings and pink petunias, and plant them in visible spots throughout the garden, the repeating cushions of white and explosions of pink will tie the scene together into a cohesive whole. The effect is even more focused if you use a single color, which can be played out using a mix of flowers, for example marigolds, celosias and zinnias, all in shades of yellow.

Which colors you choose will affect the mood of your garden. High-energy colors such as red and orange are easily seen from a distance, and tend to evoke a festive atmosphere. Light pastels fade out in bright sunlight, but set a more relaxing scene during the morning and evening hours. In addition to using flowers, consider how you might use painted fences, arbors, outdoor furniture or birdhouses to further define the season’s color scheme.

Viva Verticals

The majority of food plants grow to two feet tall and stop, so looking at the garden usually involves looking down. Upright plants or tall structures draw the eye upward, which instantly adds visual interest to the scene.

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