The following "Gardening for Life" column is presented as the first of two parts .

By JOSE GERMAN-GOMEZ
Special to Montclair Local

Have you ever experienced a landscape as a feast of the senses? 

First, catching your attention with its colors and forms, and then, as you come closer, creating a sense of ecstasy with the scents of the flowers and herbs? Then, as you encounter fruits, berries and veggies, activating the sense of taste?

What you experienced was an “edible landscape.” Whoever created this marvelous place put a lot of thought into it. 

Edible landscaping, also known as foodscaping, emphasizes creative gardening techniques. It is not a new concept, but has been rebranded many times. An edible landscape can include edible flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruit trees and berries.

Edible gardens principles: 

  • Balance: You want to create a harmonious balance among the components of your garden that will allow you to create an attractive combination of flowers, herbs and vegetables. 
  • Arrangement: You can choose a symmetric or asymmetric layout, or a combination of these two styles. 
  • Year-round beauty and harvest: The purpose of an edible garden is to create a landscape that is beautiful and productive in all seasons.
  • Unified style: Choose a focused style, such as a cottage garden or woodland, and make sure that everything in your garden relates to that style. 

There are two basic general approaches to edible gardening. The first, organic, sustainable, eco-friendly gardening, refers to growing plants based on the principles of organic agriculture in soil building and conservation, pest management and heirloom preservation. 

The second, conventional gardening, refers to growing practices that may involve chemicals and artificial growth accelerators. These have serious environmental and health consequences.

Soil

The secret of a “green thumb” is the quality of the soil. Soil supplies nutritional support for the food we eat and has nutritional needs of its own. It is a living collection of creatures, organic materials and minerals, and includes iron oxide, unicellular bacteria and filaments, protozoan amoebas and nematodes, as well as fine roots and mites. 

Adding organic materials is the best way to improve your soil, and you can achieve this through composting, a very sustainable practice that will reduce your environmental carbon footprint while enriching your soil. 

Design

There are infinite possibilities for edible landscape design. The choice of a design will reflect the taste of the homeowner, combining aesthetic considerations with functionality. Some examples include:

  • Traditional European style: Symmetric and elaborate but very practical. 
  • Formal design: Highly manicured, not necessarily symmetric but very visually attractive. 
  • Modern spiral design: Simple and practical, allowing the owner to manage the garden with minimal effort. 

When designing the garden, you can maximize the use of your yard space by creating a multiuse layout design for gardening and outdoor recreational activities. 

When putting together your landscape design, try to integrate seasonal blooming plants to create a colorful combination throughout the growing season. Mix colors, shapes and aromas. Be sure to include native plants; they are beautiful and sustainable and provide support for birds, butterflies and other pollinators. Many native plants, such as papaws, blueberries, elderberries and Juneberries, are perfect for edible gardens. 

Know the provenance of your seeds. Read the seed package and learn. Everything that you need to know about your veggies is printed on the package, including planting zone (Montclair is 6b), whether the seed is organic, if it is an heirloom variety, and information about planting time, depth and spacing.

When creating a new edible garden, you can choose between two approaches: integration or substitution. 

The integration approach involves keeping the basic layout of your current garden but looking for spaces to fill with edibles. Keep in mind that the soil around your evergreens could be very acidic, which may not be good for some veggies or herbs. 

Look for full sun exposure for most vegetables, and mix herbs and flowers. 

The substitution approach involves replacing some of your current plantings with edibles, again paying attention to sun exposure and soil type.

What to grow?

In choosing what to grow, think about your favorite vegetables, and keep in mind their appropriateness to the North Jersey climate as well as their aesthetic value. Here is a partial list of plants that are edible, attractive and easy to grow:

  • • Fruits and berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, pears, peaches or any favorite temperate climate fruits or berries.
  • • Herbs: rosemary, thyme, mint, sage, oregano, chives, basil, lavender. 
  • • Vegetables: Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, carrots, peas, beans, lettuce (different colors and shapes). 

Part 2 will cover project implementation, sequential planting, composting and companion plants, among other topics. 

Remember that there is no better hobby than gardening! 

Jose German-Gomez is an environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.

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JOSE GERMAN-GOMEZ
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Jose German-Gomez is an environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.