Think Spring: Designing Your Edible Garden
story and illustration • by Annamaria Leon
As the deep freeze of winter holds Chicago firmly in its grip, it’s the perfect time to look ahead and focus on the creative design of your spring edible landscape.
When planning a design for edibles, there are three core goals that may differ from those of conventional, non-edible landscape design– which concentrates on aesthetics and plant choices.
The primary goal is to increase soil habitat and protect soil life from the detrimental effects of sun, wind and water. Feed the soil, and the soil will feed the plants.
The second goal supports the first: Consider the orientation of the land and then thoughtfully assemble plantings according to the characteristics of each element (wind, water and sun) in order to make the most of the beneficial characteristics available on your plot of land. The following attributes should be taken into consideration during design:
South: Receives the most consistent sun throughout the seasons. Production gardens are best located here.
Southwest: Receives strong, hot summer winds. Plant windbreaks made of deciduous ornamental or fruiting hedges to protect the soil from wind erosion.
West: Receives long, hot, drying summer sun. Plant deciduous fruit trees or tall fruiting shrubs and vines along the western perimeter to protect the soil from drying out and overheating. Deciduous plantings then allow the winter sun to warm the landscape.
North and Northwest: Receive cold, harsh winter winds. Evergreen hedges planted here protect the soil from cold winds and also serve as bird refuges.
Northeast: Receives gentle, cool spring breezes. Leaving this area unobstructed promotes air circulation in a garden and locating a water feature here also helps to cool down the garden during the heat of summer.
East: Receives cool early morning light. Plant low fruiting shrubs to allow early morning sun to enter the interior of the landscape.
Southeast: A benign area so it can be planted without special considerations.
Walking the site gives a clearer understanding of the contours and slope, which determine where water will flow in or out, gather and pool. Working with a site’s attributes instead of re-contouring it could save a lot of labor, time and money.
The third goal is to evaluate the level of intensive planting methods used in different areas of the plot and then consider the amount of management and physical energy needed for its maintenance. The more an area will need to be managed or used, the closer it should be placed to the house.
A certified permaculture designer and teacher, Annamaria Leon is active in her North Lawndale community. She is also the edible landscapes manager for Christy Webber Landscapes. Come spring, she revels in her backyard forest garden, which she shares with a multitude of birds, bees and butterflies.
To view a larger size of this rendering: ediblechicago.com.
Here are some helpful tenets to consider when working on a master plan:
•Place potted herbs used for daily cooking right outside the kitchen door or on a windowsill.
• Locate production gardens close to the kitchen.
•Plant fruit trees and fruiting shrubs along walking paths for easy harvest.
• A chicken coop needs to be visited at least twice per day and smell is a factor, so placing it too close to the house may not be ideal.
• Locate honey beehives in a less-visited area of the yard since they don’t require much maintenance.
• Lastly, there is a caveat to these tips: Placement is always site specific and there will be exceptions to these recommendations.