In her book, The Edible Front Yard, Ivette Soler suggests that each plant have at least two unique features that make them worthy of that real estate. This includes attractive seedpods, color, texture, form, or long-lasting leaves and blooms. And let’s not forget delicious taste (wherever possible).
Whatever your criteria, it’s crucial to choose plants that do well where you live. Take a walk around your neighborhood and see which plants are thriving. Which ones don’t you see? Next, consider interplanting edibles with ornamentals for best results. This not only means adding interest and variety to your garden, it also creates a balance for a wide variety of microbes, insects, amphibians, and birds lessening your need for pest controls.
The following plants have a proven history of looking great and providing something tasty for those who like to have fresh food right outside their door. Add one or more to your residential landscape and reap the rewards!
Favorite Edible Landscape Plants
Amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus)
Amaranth is a spectacular plant that comes in shades of purple, red, gold, and green. Tall flower spikes feathered with blossoms make a brilliant statement when set against a backdrop of green. And amaranth is tough—it will grow in hot conditions with little water. Use the leaves in salad, sauté in stir fries, or let the plant mature and harvest the tiny seeds. Well known cultivars include Green Tails, Red Leaf, and Love Lies Bleeding.
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
This easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant herb looks striking in borders. Its violet flower spikes are fragrant and attractive to bees, and its anise-like leaves go well in herbal teas and savory dishes. Add this herbaceous perennial to your landscape for texture, color, and fragrance. Try ‘Blue Fortune,’ ‘Summer Love,’ or ‘Apricot Sunrise.’
Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia)
Seasonal fruit trees like the apple-pear (also known as the ‘Asian pear’) add height to the edible landscape and color when at their peak. Unlike the flighty Western pear, the Asian pear is a crisp, juicy mouthful of flavor that’s relatively easy to grow in rainy climates. Smooth or russet, the fruit is also attractive to look at and prolific when the growing conditions are right. Consider your space restrictions and how tall the tree will be at maturity before purchasing. Popular cultivars include Nijisseiki’ (20th Century) and Kosui.
Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)
This visually stunning plant is a relative of the common thistle—but don’t let that stop you from adding it to your landscape. Its silver, saw-toothed foliage adds texture to any garden, and its edible flower pods can be steamed, baked, boiled, or grilled. Protect from frost so it comes back in the spring and enjoy those tender hearts—a delicacy of summer.
Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis)
The bay laurel tree is native to the Mediterranean and will survive only light frosts. However, gardeners in colder climatic zones can take heart knowing this tree grows well in containers and can spend the winter indoors. A relative of the avocado and sassafras trees, the bay laurel has beautiful, dark green leaves that grow in bunches. Since the slow-growing tree can eventually reach heights of 25 to 60 feet, most gardeners control its shape and spread by pruning. (The bay laurel works equally well in hedges and topiaries). Use its leaves as a culinary herb for seasoning soups, stews, and other savory dishes.
Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris or coccineus)
If you need to fill out an area quickly and add some height to your landscape, look no further. Beans rapidly cover a trellis or obelisk with soft, heart-shaped leaves and many varieties have long-lasting blooms. In the height of summer, ‘Scarlet Runner’ provides a gorgeous splash of color, while other varieties, like ‘Rattlesnake’ have striped and speckled pods to add interest. The flowers are edible, too, and can be added to salads and desserts.
Who doesn’t love a fresh blueberry in the heat of summer? Packed with antioxidants, blueberries are a welcome addition to smoothies, desserts, fruit salads, and just about any breakfast you can conjure. In late spring, they sprout tiny flowers as delicate as fairy lanterns—these attract pollinators to the garden and provide much-needed food for bees. In fall, they turn a glorious red, adding color and interest to the otherwise slowing garden.
Brambles (Rubus genus)
Blackberries, raspberries, loganberries: these plants create beautiful displays when trellised or staked over a vertical structure. They also provide a lot of sweet food, perfect for sauce or jam-making, or for preserving as juice and frozen, whole berries packed into freezer bags to enjoy in the midst of winter. New developments mean thornless varieties produce delicious flavor without the pinch. And with a broad range of climate-adapted cultivars available, the range for brambles is wider than ever. Plant bare-rooted berries November to December or set plants into the ground in spring. Brambles are self-fertile, which means you don’t need more than one variety to get fruit, though mixing ever-bearing plants with the more traditional summer bearing varieties will give you a longer harvest. Loam soil and a sunny location will provide these berries with everything they need to thrive.
Catmint (Nepeta faassenii)
Although this isn’t the same plant as the fabled catnip, which causes cats to act like drunken kittens, catmint does appeal to cats who seem to like its sent. If you have a feral cat population in your neighborhood, you might want to use lavender instead. However, if you want mid-sized spires of easy-care, delicate purple flowers to join your landscape’s taller and shorter plants, use catnip. This spreading, semi-shrub plant is heat tolerant, pest resistant, and long-blooming. It’s also attractive to pollinators like bees and butterflies. Use in herbal teas or seasonings and see what all the fuss is about.
Easy to grow and great with almost any savory meal, chives add color and zing to eggs, meat, potatoes, stews, stir fries, and salads. They’re also not fussy about soil, although they’ll produce more prolifically when given optimal conditions including rich soil and ample water. In summer, their purple, pom-pom flowers add interest to pathways and borders, softening edges with their fluffy texture. They’re also a favorite of hummingbirds. Grow in clusters for a dramatic effect or squeeze a few plants into a garden bed to provide a satisfying edible color display.
Black elderberry is the main ingredient in many natural cough syrups thanks to the plant’s healing properties, which have a soothing effect on the respiratory system. The berries on this striking plant also make a lovely juice or cordial, perfect for a summer picnic. Pies, jams, jelly, and wine are some other common uses. Additionally, the fragrant flowers of the black elderberry are edible—great served as fritters or in salads. Just be sure not to plant (or consume) red elderberry by mistake. This lookalike cousin is poisonous. When adding black elderberry to your landscape, plant at least two bushes no more than 60 feet apart to maximize pollination. Favorite cultivars include Nova, Black Lace, and York.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
This short-lived perennial tends to self-seed and can often spread far and wide under the right conditions. But its profuse, fern-leafed foliage is an architectural feature in any garden, with a delicate texture that adds fragrance reminiscent of licorice. Late in the season, tall seed heads produce edible seeds that go equally well in savory and sweet dishes. Favorites include granolas, curries, soups, salads, and chai tea mixtures. Or just chew them to experience the delicious taste of summer. Bronze fennel, a favorite cultivar, adds graceful bronze-colored foliage to the background of any garden bed.
Fig (Ficus carica)
Striking in shape and texture, fig “trees” take some years to establish their form and work equally well as bushes if pruned to adopt a lower growing habit. Their delicious fruits add a mouthwatering delicacy to any meal, perfect for desserts or teatime. Generally hardy to Zone 8, many figs will survive Zones 6 or 7 if planted in protected areas close to buildings. Don’t worry about seeking out rich soil because this will produce lanky growth and minimal fruits. Instead, plant in average soil amended with a small amount of organic matter to help your fig get established.
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles)
Flowering quince is a deciduous shrub that bears colorful flowers on a variety of individual stems. The traditional cottage variety, Chaenomeles japonica, is a popular favourite thanks to its profusion of pink and red blooms born in dramatic clusters. The subsequent fruit is astringent and unpleasant tasting, although flavour improves after a frost. The flowering quince is different from the tree that bears the bland, pear-like fruit commonly made into jelly—though that version of quince (Cydonia oblonga) makes a lovely background plant with its pink blossoms and pale green leaves.
Haksap (Lonicera caerulea)
Honeyberry, sweetberry honeysuckle, blue-berried honeysuckle: these are just a few of the names for this berry-producing shrub native to the Northern Hemisphere. Sweet-tart and delicious, the berries taste like a cross between raspberries and blueberries. Plant two or more varieties of haksap that bloom at the same time to ensure cross-pollination, a requirement for berry production. Haksap bushes prefer well-drained, fertile soil that receives full sun to part shade. Their delicate, lantern-like flowers and soft foliage make a lovely, mid-height addition to any garden bed.
Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus)
Also known as the ‘sunchoke,’ this prolific plant is a relative of the sunflower. It produces yellow flowers on tall stems, but is best known for its tasty tubers, which have a texture close to potatoes—and a sweeter, nuttier flavor. Because Jerusalem artichokes spread rapidly, many gardeners grow them in raised beds or lift at the end of the growing season and replant the following year. The tasty tubers are excellent grated raw into salads or cooked and prepared like potatoes.
Kale (Brassica oleracea)
Considered one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet, kale is a fast-growing member of the brassica family, which also includes broccoli, cabbage, and turnip. Its colorful, lacy leaves come in a variety of colors and textures so delicate, it’s enough to make an edible landscaper swoon. Start this cool-season favorite as soon as the soil can be worked in spring, and harvest regularly by trimming the outer leaves as soon as the plant is established. For interest, try ‘Red Russian’ with its purple stems and fringed leaves, or ‘Redbor’ for a colorful, curly variety.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
What edible landscape would be complete without lavender? This cold hardy plant forms lush, compact masses of fragrant purple flowers that bees love to visit. Brush by a border of lavender mixed with vegetables and experience the glorious scents wafting up from fragrant leaves and petals. Or harvest in season to add to salads, desserts, teas, soaps, and scrubs. The plants come in a variety of blues, pinks, and purples, all of which complement the edible landscape with their silver-green foliage. For more information, read 3 Recipes That Will Make You Love Cooking With Lavender.
Plum (Prunus domestica)
Glorious in blossom and when fruiting, plum trees are a good mid-sized addition to any garden needing a transition from tall background trees to shorter, foreground plants. The mouthwatering fruit comes in an array of colors—from purple to red to gold—and looks lovely when hanging from heavily laden branches. Grow where you can include other pollinators or choose a self-pollinating variety adapted to your area. Avoid espaliering, since plums don’t take kindly to this type of training.
Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
Native to Mexico and Guatemala, this hardy perennial produces vibrant red flowers attractive to hummingbirds. Its soft green foliage is edible (along with the flowers), and has a distinctive pineapple scent that makes it a popular and fragrant border plant. Pineapple sage is also resistant to deer, who seem to avoid its uncommon odor. Because it blooms later in the summer—or during the fall in some northern climates—pineapple sage brings some much-need color to the late-season garden.
Red currant (Ribes rubrum)
Although the flowers of this Western European native are a pale yellow-green, summer brings on a flush of deep red berries that will add color to the garden and antioxidants to your diet. Growing three to five feet tall (one to one and a half meters), the red currant is a stout shrub with woody stems and leaves arranged in a spiral pattern. Prepare the fruit traditionally in jams, sauces, desserts, and wine, or serve raw in salads, teas, and lemonades.
Red orach (Atriplex hortensis)
Red orach (also known as garden orache or French spinach) is a member of the amaranth family that is now widely found in vegetable gardens thanks to its heat-tolerance. Its deep purple or burgundy leaves are a lovely addition to any landscape—and any salad, and the plant holds up well to steaming and sautéing for those who prefer it cooked. When setting seed, red orach makes an intriguing display of color and texture worthy of any garden. Although known as a hardy annual, the plant often self-seeds and comes back again in subsequent years.
Rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum)
With its colorful stalks and tenacious habit, rhubarb is a winner in both the front yard and the back garden. Resistant to deer thanks to its toxic leaves, rhubarb also provides a splash of color in early spring, along with a welcome dose of nutrients. Rhubarb is a natural perennial and prefers cooler climates to thrive, although it will grow as an annual in warmer climates. Feed heavily with finished compost, and use where you can employ its ornamental impact.
Saskatoon berries (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Native to the North American rose family, Saskatoons grow most often as tall bushes sprouting pale green leaves on woody, reddish-brown stems. Thriving in full sun to part shade in Northern climates, they gravitate to thickets, fence lines, and hedgerows as long as well-drained soil is plentiful. With the right conditions, they can reach 15 feet in height. In some coastal locations, berries can get mealy if left too long on the stem. Domestication has improved the harvest, however, offering newer varieties with larger, denser-set berries that go well in jams, jellies, and pies. Martin, Thiessen, and Smoky are a few varieties to consider when adding Saskatoons to your landscape.
Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
This frilly edible green is a relative of the classic beetroot but outperforms that plant with quick growth and colorful array of stems. Because it’s a biennial, you will need to replant each year to optimize your display, unless you’re saving seed (which will come on year two). Swiss chard has few pests, though watch for flea beetles and slugs early in the season. Favorite varieties include ‘Canary Yellow,’ ‘Magenta Sunset,’ and ‘Rhubarb.’ Use in borders where the bright stems will be visible, pairing with Sweet Alyssum for a winning combination.