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Garden Designers Roundtable – EDIBLES: What the @#$* Did I Get Myself INTO???

by germinatrix | February 22nd, 2011

a fantastic edible front yard in san antonio, texas (my hometown - YEEHAW!)

Growing food is incredible. It is also work- harder work than growing ornamentals. This is a fact.

I always say that gardening is magic – well, when you grow food, this magic is multiplied. You put a seed into some soil, you water it and give it sun, it grows full and lush and blossoms and then, it FEEDS you. It is like having the most incredible house guests – the ones that cook for you, then take you out to dinner, and send you a bottle of champagne and chocolates in thanks. Edible gardening, like having house guests, isn’t easy – but it is a joy nevertheless.

care to walk down a stone path, caressed by rosemary, thyme, and sage, while mesmerized by the scarlet blossoms of a pomegranate in flower??

These days there seem to be two gardening camps – those who want their gardening easy and straightforward and those who are type A gardeners – these tend to be the food growers. They do EVERYTHING – they grow food, they can their own food, they cook like Top Chefs, they have chickens – leaving those of us who haven’t the time or energy to devote ourselves to being Neo-Pioneers feeling somewhat lame. Why can’t I have a full-time job and grow food? Is my garden doomed to being an attractive collection of easy care ornamentals, a space that gives me nothing to literally sink my teeth into?

Theresa Loe's glorious glazed container of ruby chard is an easy-care stunner that happens to be delicious!

I SAY NO!!! You CAN have a garden of eating that doesn’t demand everything from you, but, lets face it – it will demand. Reality check – edibles take extra work. You have to irrigate, fertilize, inspect for nasty critters, harvest, and utilize what you’ve harvested (sounds easy, but just wait until you are  in the middle of the summer with your kitchen counters FULL of tomatoes and eggplant, and a busy social calendar!)

“Germinatrix, WHY are you being such a downer? You just wrote a book about how fantastic edible gardens can be, why are you talking about all of the work that they take? I want the MAGIC!”

fennel seeds ripen while Sungold tomatoes scramble up a bamboo fence

SShhhh, my little plant fiends – I don’t want to burst your bubble or take away the magic – I truly BELIEVE in the magic! But in order to create a truly successful edible garden, one that will work for you, one that will integrate into a real, busy modern lifestyle, one has to plan. One has to think. One has to make sure that one isn’t so carried away by the romance of having delicious, fresh bounty that is plucked from your yard that you create something unwieldy; something you can’t handle. There is nothing sadder than an abandoned edible garden, because these spaces have all the potential to change our lives for the better, if we come to terms with a few things before we plant.

Thing the first – Hardscape hardscape hardscape. Many of the plants that feed us are gangly, unruly, verging on the out-of-bounds. Good design is the FRIEND of the edible garden, not something to toss aside as a non-essential. Sturdy raised beds, generous paths, fences that can double as trellises, patio space to balance the grow/work space – these things make an edible garden really sing.

a bench turns into a raised bed, cuddled up against an orange tree, on the edge of a tidy gravel patio

Thing the second – Just say no to horticultural xenophobia! A garden that is strictly edibles only will have a limited appeal across the seasons, even if you live in a climate where you can grow all year long. Mix it up, I say! Bring in structure and contrast of color and texture from the ornamental world and allow yourself to play with ALL the colors in the crayon box!

this blood orange is happy in a sea of ornamental sages, junipers, and agaves, all plants that work perfectly when mixed into edible gardens in southern california

Thing the third – Think like a designer. Take the same tools designers use to create ornamental gorgeousness, and use them create an edible wonderland. Color, texture, and form – play with these qualities in your edibles and any ornamentals you add to your palette. Repeat strong plants or bold associations to create  structure within the edible garden. Also – think about what you REALLY need. A good designer will create a space suited to your lifestyle. If all you want are herbs in pots and a few tomatoes, create a gorgeous edible container garden, and don’t saddle yourself with raised beds that you may never use.

the strong shape of phormium 'red dark green' is repeated to give this edible garden strength and focus in the winter, when edibles grow more slowly

Thing the fourth – Get help. Book some time with a local garden coach. An edible garden tends to be a do-it-yourself affair, so hiring someone that can guide you in your quest is a smart move. They can tell you where to best site certain plants, what really works in your climate, what the tricks are to get things chugging along nicely. No matter how many books you read, nothing beats talking to someone who has planted in your area and has a real familiarity with its terroir. It is a great investment!

Follow these “Things” and you will avoid the curse of good intentions – “What the @#$* did I get myself INTO???” You will have an edible garden that pleases your eye, makes sense for your lifestyle, and feeds you and your loved ones. You can’t beat THAT with a STICK!!!

Oh, and you can ALSO buy a book … um, let’s see – what book could THAT be?

now THIS is a book to have, right? (forgive the shameless plug!)

Now follow the links and see what my esteemed colleagues have to say about this topic!

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »

Shirley Bovshow’s Eden Makers Blog


XOXO Your Germinatrix

14 Responses to “Garden Designers Roundtable – EDIBLES: What the @#$* Did I Get Myself INTO???”

  1. Oh, Ivette, I’m thrilled with your “reality check!” approach. Planning makes all of our life’s endeavors more successful and satisfying, and edible gardening is no exception. Three cheers and can’t wait to read your book!

  2. Scott Hokunson says:


    You continue to offer advice both practical and inspirational, leading us into the mixed world of edible and ornamentals. I’ll be referring back to your book for many years. I see a very successful book/speaking tour in your future, and I hope it brings you nearer to me. I will be sitting front row for that!


  3. Amen, Sister Ivette! Thing the First is super-important. And I love your phrase “garden of eating”–can’t you just see that as a business name? The Garden of Eating–helping you grow as a gardener!

  4. I like that there is a reality check.
    I like that your reality check is still bouncing with fun!
    You will take many people with you on this journey.
    Congrats on your book.
    What a GREAT achievement!
    Best Wishes

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    The first sentence of this post is exactly why I don’t do veggies. I guess I am just a little lazy. Not totally. I do have a nice (to me) garden but it contains few edibles. Blackberries, raspberries, apples. That is about it. I try a pot of lettuce from time to time but that is about it. I love the idea of a beautiful garden such as yours but…maybe in another life.

  6. Ivette, After reading your post I’m even more excited to read your book. I love how you face the fact that growing edibles is ALOT of work and just because you decide to grow some of your own food doesn’t mean you need raised beds. Best of luck with your book, it’s sure to be a hit!

  7. Hey Jocelyn! I am obviously a fan of edibles – but I felt a reality check is important – running off half-cocked without thinking about how these gardens feed our eyes is one of the reason many communities won’t allow edible front yards. I think we can CHANGE that, but people have to be ready for what the reality is, right? It is still fantastic!

    Scott, I swoon. I melt. Where you lead, I will follow. Thank you so much for your awesome support! XO

    Jenny I’m glad you liked the phrase! When I was a little girl, my Mom wanted to open up a Christian restaurant called The Garden of Eating. I think someone else must have had the name – either that or she realized she was a hairstylist and not a chef. Still – I always love a pun and a play on words! XOXO!

    Thank you SO MUCH Robert! If you think THIS was fun, wait until we have a few pints next time I’m across the pond!

    Lisa I truly think that we should only do what we can use or give away reasonably – we can’t be putting the work into edibles we don’t benefit from directly, it will cause resentment and eventual abandoning of the garden (unless you are some kind of saint and grow to give away – some do that!). I think you totally have an edible garden – I WISH I had raspberries, blackberries and apples! And pots of lettuce count! I dub the Lisa, Edible Gardener!!! In THIS life!!!

    Debbie YAY! Yes, I believe we have to dream big within boundaries. Don’t over do it – that is why I love integrating edibles within an ornamental garden, you can dip your toe in and keep on going. That is the way lifelong edible gardeners are made, I think! XO!!!

    I can’t tell you all how full my heart is of your incredible support. My readers, my blogfriends, my PEEPS – you are beautiful. Love Ya! Mean it!!!

  8. Excellent postscript (? if I’m using that word correctly) to your excellent book! I can’t wait to hear you speak on Friday at the NWFG Show, we are so lucky that you’re coming, of course that is if all the predicted snow doesn’t keep you, or me, away. It’s gonna be cold!!! Pack warm clothes and mittens!

  9. Loree, I can’t WAIT to meet you! But SNOW??? REALLY??? Oh NO!!! I don’t even OWN anything truly warm. Okay, I’ll just have to bring my big suitcase and pack 3 coats and tons of layers. Are there tunnels connecting the venue and the hotels? I’ll dig them myself to avoid snow!!! XOXO!

  10. How do you manage to make edible gardening sound like so much work – yet work that I now want to do? Wonderful teaser for your book which I can’t wait to see in person at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show!

  11. Ivette – you are truly magical. Only YOU could pop an unrealistic dreamer’s bubble and leave them feeling energized and enthusiastic! How DO you do it?

    I’m thrilled you wrote about the difficulties one may face, and how to cope with them. People need a reality check in order to succeed, and you’ve offered the perfect, helpful advice. And your photos are as inspiring as your words. Beautiful post, beautiful book – well done, my friend! XXOO – Rebecca

  12. Ivette, what a great post, not least because it tells the truth (edible gardening is harder than ornamental gardening) and yet manages to be completely encouraging at the same time. I like how you remind people it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Fantastic! Have fun at NWFG Show! I’d be jealous that you’re meeting Loree if I weren’t going to meet her myself in July at the Seattle Fling.

  13. Ivette, I am unsurprised that the author of The Edible Front Yard managed to knock it out of the park with a post that is both based in reality (how many gardening articles are so grounded?) AND inspirational! This is what I loved about your book, too. If people know what they are getting into, they can be successful, but if it’s an overwhelming surprise, then it quickly leads to burnout. Yay for your gorgeous photos and great advice.

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