Why Edible Landscaping?
Although there are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world, fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. It's ironic that as cheap energy in the last century made access to a greater diversity of foods easy and inexpensive, the diversity of foods that make up the bulk of our diets actually decreased. Our palate has withered, so to speak, as a culture. We've become accustomed to an extremely limited diet.
Scientific research is showing that many of the lesser known plants (including many native plants) have outstanding nutritional benefits. Pawpaws (an Oklahoma native tree fruit) have been shown to have cancer-curing properties--research is ongoing, but looks promising. Several studies show that Aronia melanocarpa--chokeberries--have the highest number of anthocyanins (a very beneficial antioxidant) of all fruits known to mankind so far. Blackberries, serviceberries and blueberries are all also rich in anthocyanins, as are many dark fruits. Chokecherries, another Oklahoma native plant, are very rich in a variety of antioxidants. Research shows that antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of cancers. Studies also show that there are potent anticarcinogenic activity from anthocyanins in fruits and they may also play a role in weight control. Vitamins, minerals, and fiber are other vital contributions that plants make to our diets.
When these plants are grown as part of an edible landscape, they provide all of these benefits (and more) without the kinds of inputs required of monoculture agriculture. The 20 species of plants that make up such a large part of our diet are almost exclusively grown as monocrops using chemically and energy-intensive production methods that are then (often after extensive processing) shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles to their destination--your dinner plate. As the price of energy continues to escalate, this way of doing business will become harder to sustain financially and we already know that we have paid a hefty environmental price.
The style of planting in an intensive, yet integrated (polyculture) way that replicates the function (though not necessarily the style) of a woodland or forest is sometimes referred to as "forest gardening." Plants For a Future describes its advantages this way:
When comparing a large cultivated field to natural woodland the woodland receives no intervention but produces lush growth and diversity of plants and animals. Yet the cultivated land supports very few species. The quality and depth of soil in a woodland is maintained and improved yearly whilst erosion and loss of soil structure plague the cultivated field.
Large areas of land devoted to single crops increase dependence upon intervention of chemicals and intensive control methods with the added threat of chemical resistant insects and new diseases. The changing world climate greatly affecting cultivation indicates a greater diversity is needed.
Continued cultivation of the soil, whilst creating a desert to most of our wild plants and animals, destroys the organic matter and opens it up to the risk of erosion from wind and rain. The soil structure is damaged and becomes compacted leaving it unable to drain properly or allow plant roots to penetrate and obtain nutrients, and valuable topsoil is washed away in heavy rain.
A cultivated crop such as wheat has all its roots in a narrow band of soil with intense competition between plants for the same nutrients. Any nutrients below this belt are inaccessible to the plants. The crop is susceptible to the same pests and diseases and has similar climatic requirements, if one plant suffers they all suffer. The amount of energy used in producing high yields is far more than the food itself yields in energy. We do not believe this is sustainable.
When looking at woodland, almost no weeding is required, no feeding and no watering yet year after year a host of animals can be found along with the inevitable plant growth. A wide range of plants grows side by side each occupying its own space. Some with deep roots bringing up nutrients from beyond the reach of other plants. When leaves fall they provide nutrients and substance to the soil. Plants with shallow root systems obtain their nutrients from nearer the surface of the soil. The canopy of trees creates a shelter and temperature fluctuations are less extreme in a woodland environment. The soil is protected from erosion.
Woodland sustains itself and is highly productive due to its diversity which leads to a gradual build up of fertility. All the different available habitats allow a wide range of creatures to live in woodland, and the plants, insects and animals all work to create an altogether much more balanced and harmonious way of life. Another benefit of Woodland Gardening is that the high humus content of the soil acts like a sponge to absorb water therefore replenishing the ground water table.
Growing a diversity of plants emulating woodland, we can grow fruit and nut trees, under- planted with smaller trees and shrubs, herbaceous, ground cover and climbing plants. This way it is possible to produce fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves and roots throughout the year. Unlike the majority of cultivated food plants these have not been selectively bred to increase size of yield, reduce bitterness or increase sweetness, yet many of them are delicious and highly nutritious.
A large number of native broadleaf trees are planted to provide natural shelter and wildlife habitats. Trees are the lungs of the planet; they purify the air locking up carbon and have the potential for reducing the greenhouse effect. Trees protect the soil from erosion, encourage rainfall, and regulate the flow of ground water preventing flooding. Fallen leaves are an effective soil conditioner.
We sell plants "for your yard, garden and farm." That is to say, the plants we sell can be planted as part of a formal, more cultivated urban or suburban landscape, or as an informal planting of the same. Or they may be planted in a linear, formal garden in rows to make care and maintenance easier (though the permaculturist might argue that a dense forest garden would be easier to care for). Or they may be planted on a farm as we have planted many of our plants in the first couple of years at our new farm--off in well-suited meadows at the fringes...left to fend for themselves (as many of them are low-care, low-maintenance plants that are well-adapted for our climate).
Whatever your planting style and gardening circumstances, we hope you'll find reasons to integrate more edible plants into your landscape!