Leading the foodscape revolution
Revolutions often begin quietly. Gathering insurgents, organizing covert meetings, planning protests, planting arugula among violas …
For many homeowners, creating edible gardens in their front yards is viewed as an act of homeowners’ association treason. Neighborhood associations strive to maintain or increase property values, leading many communities to ban edible gardens – or at least, relegate them to the backyard, hidden behind a fence.
But enter North Carolina gardener Brie Arthur, who quietly proved that edibles can be beautifully incorporated into the front garden. In fact, much to the chagrin of her former homeowners’ association, she earned a “Yard of the Year” award for her garden. The judges did not realize that many of the beautiful plants growing in her front yard beds were, in fact, edibles.
“People who have no connection to horticulture are moved seeing the grain growing in my garden.”
Arthur, author of The Foodscape Revolution: Finding a Better Way to Make Space for Food and Beauty in Your Garden, passionately plants her front beds to allow maximum food production, while maintaining a beautiful landscape to please her neighbors. “Taking away the agronomic approach to food production,” says Arthur, “makes foodscaping OK.” Instead of containing her produce in raised beds, she advocates planting food crops among ornamentals, marrying camellias with carrots, pairing barley with begonias, and edging beds with edibles, like lettuce, radishes, or garlic.
While foodscaping is not necessarily a new practice, Arthur’s commitment to communicating her message is revolutionary. She travels the country teaching others how to grow food beautifully, lecturing on the benefits of front yard food production, and engaging new growers via social media.
One of the best methods to enter the realm of foodscaping involves a fairly simple idea. “Plant your bed edges,” says Arthur. “You can cultivate a meaningful amount of produce just by planting along the edges.” Plus, she says, edges offer convenience: produce is easy to water, visible to monitor pests, and accessible for harvesting. Plus, says Arthur, “adding crops like onions, garlic, and chives to the border help deter mammals from feasting on your plants.”
Growing up as the only non-farmer in her 4-H group, Arthur began growing flowers and vegetables to participate, while her peers raised livestock. While she credits the extension agent that worked with her in 4-H for showing her the career possibilities in horticulture, as well as teaching her botanical Latin, her love of gardening stems from her grandparents’ influence. Immigrants from Czechoslovakia, her grandparents cultivated the “perfect yard,” she says, planting potatoes in the wells of the blue spruce, while maintaining a flawless fescue lawn.
“My goal with foodscaping was to stop segregating all of my plants,” says Arthur. She hoped to maximize food production in her garden’s square footage, creating creative combinations of ornamentals and edibles. She’s succeeded. Arthur grows more than 200 edibles in her garden, ranging from tomatoes to strawberries and blueberries to her favorite obsession, grains. In fact, her social media posts often contain #crazygrainlady, and her next book focuses on growing grains as part of the foodscape.
A landscape design and horticulture graduate of Purdue University, Arthur envisions foodscaping following the artistry of renowned Dutch designer Piet Oudolf – but replacing the bold drifts of grasses with grains and adding edibles to the herbaceous perennial plantings.
When asked about her neighbors’ reaction to her foodscape, Arthur concedes that her homeowners’ association is “gentle.” In fact, her neighbors disliked paying a landscape contractor to tend the entrance of the community. Arthur recruited a dozen neighborhood kids, ranging in ages from 8 to 12, and together they planted a foodscape. Not only did the community crew harvest more than 350 pounds of produce, the fees that were formerly allocated for landscape maintenance funded a community-wide July 4 party.
While Arthur mentors kids as part of the foodscape revolution, she also serves in many gardening organizations, such as Garden Writers’ Association, where she is the National Director for Region IV, serving the Southeast. Her nonstop speaking schedule includes workshops and presentations to teach gardeners how to incorporate edibles into the landscape. Along with planting bed edges, she shares a key strategy to minimize maintenance: direct seeding. She advocates planting beds thickly to minimize the need to weed, covering the beds instead with edible plants that serve as a living, productive mulch. “I’m never home due to my travel schedule,” says Arthur, “but by spending about eight hours over Memorial Day weekend transitioning cool-season crops to summer produce, and again allocating a day around Thanksgiving to remove summer crops and add fall seeds, my garden looks beautiful and is incredibly productive year round with little maintenance.”
Arthur thinks outside the box – not just in forgoing raised beds in favor of foodscaping, but also replacing traditional ornamentals with edibles. Her favorite switch is to replace traditional pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) with wheat. Now in her fourth season of growing grains, she feels an emotional connection to her carbohydrates, with literal “amber waves of grain” gracing her garden. “People who have no connection to horticulture are moved seeing the grain growing in my garden,” she says. “It really does invoke a patriotic feel.” The wheat grown in her front bed also produced 15 pounds of flour, a perk not possible with pink muhly grass.
Will the #crazygrainlady ever forgo ornamentals to plant a strictly edible foodscape? Probably not, as like most gardeners, she still adores her blooms, particularly camellias.
Even revolutionaries need beautiful flowers with their food.
For more information about Brie Arthur, her speaking schedule, or The Foodscape Revolution, visit briegrows.com.