In their new book, "The Beautiful Edible Garden," designers Stefani Bittner and Leslie Bennett urge readers to create a stylish outdoor space using vegetables, fruits and herbs as key landscaping plants. Gardens should be stunning, they say — but also useful and productive.
You can have both, assure the authors, co-owners of Star Apple Edible & Fine Gardening in Oakland. You can balance aesthetics with bounty by using Bittner and Bennett's "swap" technique, which involves substituting a productive plant (one that you can harvest for food or flowers) for just about any ornamental one.
"If you want a row of zinnias for color, why not plant peppers instead?" Bittner says. Or, for example, grow mini-eggplants beneath roses instead of an annual groundcover.
"Your garden should provide you with a harvest of food and flowers. It should be beautiful in all seasons. And your plant choices should support local pollinators and beneficial insects," Bittner says. "The good news is that plants our pollinators tend to like also tend to provide humans with beauty, so it all comes full circle."
Beginning food gardeners usually want raised vegetable beds, but Bennett and Bittner suggest an alternative. "Raised beds are great, but we like to grow edibles throughout the garden," Bittner says.
A bonus: Growing edibles may prompt you to transition to organic practices, she says. Perhaps you'll start recycling your garden waste in compost or throw food scraps into a worm bin to produce a natural fertilizer.
"The Beautiful Edible Garden" encourages readers to select perennial edible plants that fulfill a landscape design need, such as a tree that acts as a design focal point, a hedge that provides screening for privacy.
"Your garden doesn't have to be 100% edible, but if you start out with a blueberry shrub and a lemon tree, you'll get there," Bittner says. "There's no reason to have a fruitless plum tree when you can have a fruit-bearing tree instead."