Parsley Around the Pig or Serious Endeavor? A Look at the practice of Edible Landscaping

I’m tired of landscape architects, designers, nurserymen and “flower gardeners” rolling their eyes whenever the topic of edible landscaping comes up. Many of these people dismiss it as the latest trendy fad; an insignificant form of gardening practiced by neophytes or old hippies; a style of garden that lacks true form, structure, aesthetics or meaning; and one that really isn’t worth considering except to chuckle. Professionals trained in design, particularly, seem to believe that building a garden incorporating edible plants as integral devices for giving meaning, structure and use to a garden design, is less noble and worthy than designing a garden of architectural devices: hardscape elements, built structures, symmetry, axiality, and plant materials that serve form – usually formal – and don’t worry about function.

In graduate school I had a professor in landscape architecture who referred to much of the current wave of landscape design as nothing more than “putting parsley around the pig.” This was his expression of disdain for the “power elite” of engineers, architects and planners that left landscape architects out of the initial design decision-making loop, only to be brought in on a project at the last minute to apply the frosting on the cake or the parsley around the pig.

Translation: the lowly landscape architect’s role is to put plants around the building foundation. It is a degrading and meaningless role and one that, by its very repetitious nature and high visibility, unfortunately encourages gardeners, homeowners, and nurserymen to emulate and further water down.

What many of the engineers, architects and planners fail to realize is that some people want and expect more from their landscapes. To put it succinctly, much of the current thinking about landscape design as it relates to garden making is outmoded, does not speak about our culture today and is based upon an outdated paradigm.

For those who realize this, there is no turning back. For those that don’t, there is little consideration given to anything beyond the status quo. There is much concern today about the quality of our environment and its effect on quality of life. Until recently, the “green industry” – landscape architects and designers, contractors, lawn care maintenance services, the nursery industry, land grant universities and agribusiness – failed, on average, to consider the holistic ramifications of designing and building landscapes with plant materials that required expensive and extensive amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and water to maintain them.

In many ways, a “softer path” of design – designing with diverse species that include native plants and mimicking natural planting communities that conserve water, require minimal inputs of fertilizers and pesticides – has become a reality. However, don’t credit the above-mentioned professionals. The change has come about due to watchdog conservation groups, concerned citizens, government budget cuts, extensive development of suburbia and drought-like conditions over many areas of the U.S.

The demand for a more sustainable approach toward designing and building landscapes has trickled up to the professional ranks and finally some positive change is occurring.

Still, much more needs to be done to educate the “green industry,” politicians, government agencies and the general public alike. It seems that the typical home landscape is a perfect testing ground, a living laboratory, for attempting to make a new landscape order.

It is one that considers regional climate and conditions – soils, ecosystems, cultural traditions and patterns – to facilitate the creation of landscapes that satisfy basic needs: to have beauty around us, to create unique and personal surroundings, to lessen our negative impact on the environment.

Edible landscaping is one mode for designing and devising a landscape of personal meaning. But just what is edible landscaping? What role can it play, if any, to improve our personal and global environment, our sense of well being? Stay tuned to these pages for more on this subject!

 

 

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