What’s that new ground cover? Lettuce!

This month’s topic on Growing Great Gardens is edible landscaping – the conscious integration of edible plants into a home or community landscape. If you have your own examples of edible landscaping to share, please send them to grow.eat@gmail.com.

I love the idea of edible landscaping, but the practice often seems challenging because other animals besides me and my family want to eat the plants in my landscape. But it is possible to confuse the critters! Here are some photos from a successful edible landscape. Merikay Smith (no relation!) is a fellow Montgomery County Master Gardener who maintains beautiful beds of bulbs and perennials while making an effort to integrate edibles. (All Merikay’s photos.)

At first glance, this is a lovely traditional perennial border. But what’s that reddish-bronze ground cover in the foreground? Looks like an oakleaf lettuce!

Merikay says: “I’ve grown herbs, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, spinach, cilantro, beets, peas, and potatoes out in the flower garden and put deer-food flowers inside my fenced vegetable space (tulips in spring, lilies in summer). I have found it works well to put fragrant herbs like oregano, mint and parsley outside the deer fence (also rhubarb, onions and garlic) and have circled the outside of the garden with other deer-resistant blooming plants (nepeta and peonies).”

“It’s amazing to me that even though we have heavy deer damage (also woodchucks, rabbits, etc.) no animal but us seems to eat the lettuce. Maybe it’s because so much is planted they’re fooled into thinking it isn’t good? Or maybe they are eating a little and I haven’t noticed? Buying the seeds in larger packets makes it quite economical. We had way more lettuce than we could eat all spring.”

Merikay harvests lettuce as needed and then pulls it up in early summer when it’s bolting and perennials have started to fill in. She also grows peas in the spring alongside clematis on a trellis:

The Deer Departed website has a list of deer-resistant vegetables, herbs and fruit as well as lots of other information about keeping deer away. Also check out this advice on the National Gardening Association site. I would add hot peppers (and possibly sweet ones as well) to a list of animal-resistant plants that are also attractive in the garden. But remember that deer and other animals may eat anything you plant if they are hungry enough.

Challenge yourself next year to plant at least one edible in your ornamental landscape!

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