An example of peppers being used as an atheistic and functional landscape the the UK Arboretum. Photo Furnished
Lexington businesses are thinking outside the box. More accurately, they are planting outside the box — planting herbs and vegetables into their landscapes.
The “edible landscaping” movement has taken on national prominence, and many businesses in Lexington enjoy not only beautiful landscapes, but harvest nutritious and healthy food from them. Mixing edibles with ornamentals isn’t new; in fact, many plants we consider strictly ornamental today have edible qualities. What’s different now is that home and business landscapes alike are intentionally using plants for food alongside plants we use for beauty. And there’s not a raised bed or planting furrow in sight.
The University of Kentucky Arboretum is a prime example of creating beds that mix traditionally ornamental plants with what most of us would expect to see in vegetable beds. “The Dinosaur Kale mixed into the entrance beds was a hands-down favorite last year, especially with children,” said Marcia Farris, outgoing arboretum director. Beds and containers are filled with vegetables like chard, kale, lettuces, leeks, corn, herbs, peppers, eggplant and more.
“Many edibles are beautiful plants, and any time you put beautiful plants in a landscape, you increase its value. The fact that it provides food as well as an attractive aesthetic is a win-win,” said Molly Davis, the arboretum’s new director, who took over the role in January. Produce from the arboretum is donated to Lexington’s God’s Pantry.
The front yard of Debra Hensley’s State Farm office has been filled with multi-tiered containers of herbs and vegetables for several years, furnishing employees, clients and the community with free and bountiful produce. When Lexington lawyer Peter Brown bought his office space on Elaine Drive last year, he wanted to follow Hensley’s lead. Situated next to office spaces and apartments, he began by planting tomatoes in the small space bordering his parking lot and building. After amending the soil to improve it, Brown has plans to expand.
“Plans for this year include herbs, a serviceberry tree, perhaps some raspberries or blackberries and more,” Brown said. “It only makes sense to use the space for both beauty and to produce food.”
The idea behind edible landscaping is to incorporate plants that produce flowers, leaves, roots or seeds with culinary purposes into a well-designed and maintained landscape. The mix of ornamentals and edibles creates stunning results that can compete with any ornamental landscape for magnificence. Most landscapers are willing to create aesthetically pleasing designs that include edibles.
For many business landscapes, incorporating trees that produce fruit or nuts is an easier place to begin. When the Northside YMCA Legacy Trail was being developed, High Street YMCA Director David Elsen asked, “Why not plant fruit trees instead of oaks?” Planted two years ago at the entrance to the trail and along the way, the trees began bearing fruit in 2013, furnishing healthy snacks to those using the YMCA facilities and the trail. Area residents may pick fruit, and fruit harvested by YMCA volunteers tending the trees is donated to local food banks.
But even a grassy lawn isn’t a requirement for creating a lovely edible landscape at your business. Containers overflowing with herbs, flowers and vegetables abound in Lexington, particularly at restaurants. Azur in Beaumont Center has had galvanized planters lining its patio overflowing with herbs, flowers and more and La Petite Creperie last summer grew herbs and greens in their front yard planters to afford the freshest of ingredients for their creations.
Fayette Cooperative Extension horticulture agents Jamie Dockery and Delia Scott are a good first stop for those considering adding edibles into a business space.
“It’s what we do,” said Dockery.
So the next time you are struck with the beauty of a landscape in Lexington, look closely. You just may see vegetables and fruits nestled alongside the foliage and flowers.