Less Noise, More Green: Edible landscaping lessons from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Edible landscaping lessons from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Love the play on color and texture

On a recent trip to Maine I visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor. I was very surprised to see the amount of edible plants worked into the gardens, in quite interesting ways. 

I am in the process of researching both the plants I want to include, and the design of the gardens I want to install, in the front of my house. I want these gardens to be beautiful and practical, containing plants that provide food for my family and plants with medicinal qualities. They also need to be low maintenance. I came away with a lot of ideas and these general lessons for designing gardens with a large edible element.

Kale on mass, provides color and texture

Lesson 1:  Treat edible plants like formal ornamental plants.
When choosing plants for formal perennial gardens, we take into consideration the mix of texture, color, and height. When choosing edible plants, look at them as ornamentals and not as vegetables. Choose perennial plants such as elderberry bushes or dwarf fruit trees to anchor the garden with annuals as accents.

Lesson 2: Provide texture through leaves and color with fruit.
A consideration when designing a garden in the front of the house with edibles, without it looking like a vegetable garden, is to choose plants that cut and come again or have beautiful flowers and fruit. Many vegetables have interesting leaves and colorful stems and are too attractive to hide in the backyard.

Simple daisies look stunning when planted in large beds

 Lesson 3: Use mass plantings or groups of like plants to make a statement.
The Botanical Gardens have vast stretches of same flower plantings. Done this way, even simple flowers become spectacular. In one of the gardens an entire bed of curly kale made quite the impression, especially because it was planted in a bed at eye level.

Lesson 4: Use Sculpture and/or natural elements to add interest.
The gardens are full of visually interesting objects that are placed in the beds to move the eye. Sculpture, large and small, made a big impact. Natural features such as rocks, branches and water elements added to the formality of some beds and added whimsy to others. These sculptural elements really enhanced the beds and spoke of purposeful design.

 Lesson 5: Use planters for height and visual interest.
Planters add a sculptural element but can also provide height. Here is where to plant quick turnover veggies such as lettuce, along with more formal plants. Adding texture and color, they can quickly be replaced. 

Lesson 6: Use flowers and perennial plants to compliment edibles.
I am not an ornamental gardener but I was inspired by many of the flowers and shrubs I saw. A mix of native perennials and flowers that attract pollinators will add more color and texture to my gardens. I rediscovered some flowers I knew from childhood, like the snapdragon. A few indulgent plantings will make me happy and that’s OK! 


Of course, remembering the basic needs of the plants I choose, their light, soil pH and water preferences, will also play into their placement. 

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are anything but predictable ornamental show gardens. I enjoyed the creativity and inspiring use of both non-traditional plantings and the use of natural and sculptural elements in the designs. 

To visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden’s website, click here.

Have you ever visited a garden that inspired you?

See you in the garden,


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