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Grow Food Everywhere: Ground Covers, Fruit-Bearing Trees and More

Plant herbal ground covers, edible vines, and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs around your home for a hardworking yard that does more than look pretty.

| September/October 2013

  • Plant herbal ground covers, edible vines, and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs around your home for a hardworking yard that does more than look pretty.
    Photo By GAP
  • Elderberry is an easy-to-grow shrub, and its berries are both delicious and medicinal in jams, pies and juices.
    Photo By Fotolia
  • Growing your own food provides a connection to nature and added exercise that can help reduce stress and increase energy.
    Photo By iStock

Traditional yards with manicured grass and a smattering of ornamental flowers might look nice, but they don’t give us anything back in the way of food. Rather than dedicating the valuable land around your home (or even your patio or roof space) to ornamentals, consider growing beautiful and functional food plants. Multipurpose edibles bring a fusion of food, usefulness, beauty and dimensional interest that you can personalize to your own tastes. From double-duty trees and shrubs to vines that produce plenty of fruits and veggies, you can spice up your yard with tasty options that are as pretty as they are practical. Plus, you can cash in on a cornucopia of savings that will yield big returns on your investment of time and space.

Herbal Ground Covers

Low-maintenance herbal ground covers provide the dual visual interests of color and texture. Not only does this group of problem-solving plants perform a significant role in any landscape, but they are all delicious and healthful additions to the kitchen.

The following herbs, whose flowers and foliage are edible, all prefer a sunny area and light garden soil that is well-drained. As ground covers, these perennial performers can also be used on slopes, to cover bare areas, to soften the effects of walkways and stone walls, and sometimes to spill over rocks. Once these low-maintenance plants are established they will grow quickly to block out weeds and fill in empty spaces.

Oreganos have the most consistent flavor if you grow plants that have been propagated from cuttings, division or layering, rather than from seed. Flavorful types to try, ranging from mild to wild, include ‘Greek’, ‘Golden’, ‘Kaliteri’ and ‘Hot & Spicy’. Oregano livens up the flavor of sauces, salsas, marinades, soups and pizza.

Rosemary’s dwarf and creeping forms—such as ‘Prostratus’, ‘Blue Boy’, ‘Ken Taylor’, ‘Collingwood Ingram’ and ‘Huntington Carpet’—drape beautifully over low walls, but as a group they are less hardy (Zone 7) than upright forms (Zones 5 to 6). The key to keeping rosemary thriving is to never let the soil dry completely and to provide winter protection if needed. Rosemary enhances lamb, beef, pork and poultry; winter squash, potatoes and beans; soups and stews; marinades and vinaigrettes.

Sage comes in many varieties, but the green-leafed varieties such as common garden sage, ‘Holt’s Mammoth’ and ‘Berggarten’ are the easiest to grow and the hardiest choice for cold winter weather. ‘Dwarf’ and ‘Berggarten’ work well as ground covers. Sage pairs well with meats and meat pies, egg and cheese dishes, stuffings, breads and anything featuring tomato, rice, beans, potatoes or cabbage.

5/19/2016 2:21:04 PM

It would have been helpful to provide the growing zones that these plants are hardy to. Being in a zone 3/4 area, I would bet that a lot of these cannot be grown where I live.

9/12/2013 8:48:33 AM

Yikes...hardy kiwi is considered an invasive species; the seeds are dispersed into the wild when racoons, turkeys, and other critters eat the fruits. The vines grow 20 feet a year and can quickly overwhelm forested areas: Please consider removing this plant from your recommendations, and promote some less-damaging vegetation to your readers. Readers, please do your research before cultivating anything that might have unintended consequences beyond your property!

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