The Foodscape Revolution

By Guest Author Brie Arthur

“Garden to Table” is the best way to describe my passion for adding purpose to landscapes in suburban neighborhoods, office parks, school campuses and retirement communities. With an education in design, an enthusiasm for ornamental horticulture, and a hunger for local, organically raised produce I see that there is the potential to grow food in every cultivated space. In fact, according to extension service data, there’s about 190 million acres that could be utilized in the suburbs alone!

Foodscaping is simply the integration of edibles in a traditional ornamental landscape. This design strategy is meant to empower home growers, landscapers and professional gardeners by connecting sustainable food production to the everyday landscape. Edibles enhance landscapes by providing a unique seasonal component with a multitude of health and economic benefits.

Landscapes that present nutritional, ecological and aesthetic value meet the needs of the modern day American. I am not only referring to “millennials” but also baby boomers who like my parents, are retiring and downsizing. They are approaching the landscape with a different sensibility and have a desire to make the most of less square footage. They are steering away from large lawns, high maintenance hedges and spray regiments. What they are looking for now is “garden-landscape fusion” with fresh tomatoes alongside the boxwood hedge with and a ground cover of fresh salad greens adjacent to the knock-out rose.   

 Many homeowners believe property values will go down with a rogue farmer on the cul de sac, hence the many restrictive HOA covenants. It is important to recognize that landscapes are not meant to be farms.  Rather, the goal of a foodscape is to cultivate supplemental amounts of produce while meeting the aesthetic standards of the surrounding community. This starts by thinking “outside of the box.”  Lumber encased beds are NOT the only way to grow food.  In fact, raised beds are generally the cause for the “no food in the front yard” mantra of suburbia. Boxed beds can also cause decreased production due to over planting which invite insect and disease to wreak havoc. Additionally this method of containing edibles creates monocultures, as our food crops lack biological diversity. In fact four plant families make up the lions share of the edibles grown by home gardeners:

  • Amaranthaceae- beats, quinoa, spinach and Swiss chard
  • Brassicaeae- cool season crops such a broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale
  • Fabaceae- beans, peas and peanuts  
  • Solanaceae- warm season crops like eggplant, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes  

Fruit and nut trees offer long term harvests while herbaceous perennials such as asparagus and strawberries provide seasonal bounty and textural contrast.  Herbs like oregano, rosemary and thyme are low maintenance plants that add high culinary impact.

The inclusion of flashy annual crops like tomatoes, peppers, kale and chard will add brilliant colors that blend beauty and abundant harvest.

Traditional field crops are seldom addressed in the local food movement, but offer incredible opportunity in the landscape.  Ancients grains are making waves, recently named “the next culinary obsession” according to the New York Times.  From edible meadows to sophisticated spaces using clumps of oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum and wheat grains offer low maintenance requirements with a big design impact.  They are essentially an ornamental grass with a nutritional benefit.  Grains provide seasonal interest and actively engage people who have likely never seen a wheat or rice plant growing.

As professional horticulturist I strive to meet the needs of a growing population and focus on ways to extend horticultural relevance in the American society.   I am proud to see plants being recognized for all of the attributes they represent: beauty, ecology, health, wellness, nutrition and lifestyle.  Foodscaping is a design technique that embraces the heritage of home gardening while developing a new level of sophistication for modern day living.  Join the Foodscape Revolution and make the most of the space you cultivate.  Harness the power of the sun, soil and irrigation systems of the everyday landscape and grow some food of your own!

About Brie Arthur

Originally from southeastern Michigan, Brie Arthur studied Landscape Design and Horticulture at Purdue University. With more than a decade of experience as a grower and propagator at leading nurseries such as Plant Delights and Camellia Forest, Brie is combining her passion for plants and design by communicating the value of horticulture. She is leading the national suburban Foodscape movement; a model of community development that incorporates sustainable, local food production. She is a correspondent on the PBS television show Growing A Greener World. Her forth coming book The Foodscape Revolution will be available March 2017, published by St Lynn’s Press.

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