As I’m sure you’ve noticed, warm weather arrived early this year, well before the first day of spring. The warmth has summoned new buds on deciduous trees and shrubs, the blooms of which are rapidly coloring the barren winter landscape of the last four months. I’m sure your lawn is happy about the increased sunlight and rain too, perhaps happier than we’d like for it to be this early in the season. Thus the time for landscaping, yard work, and gardening is officially upon us.

Today I’m going to show you three beautiful ways to implement food production into your yard. Growing your own herbs, vegetables, and fruits is a very rewarding experience, especially for those who enjoy getting creative with their cooking. Fortunately, growing your own food doesn’t mean that you have to have a flat, rectangular row-garden in the middle of your yard. The following techniques are for those who want to think outside the box with their gardens.

  • Edible Landscaping

Did you know landscapers are using vegetables, herbs, and fruits in their designs for commercial developments because of their aesthetic appeal? Colorful varieties like red, yellow, and purple peppers, an assortment of cabbages, and other brassicas add color and a unique structure to landscaping. Aromatic herbs such as thyme, parsley, sage, and mint not only smell incredibly fresh but attract butterflies and bees while repelling mosquitoes and other pests. All this aside, the obvious benefit of incorporating these plants into your landscape is that you can cook with them! Why not do this in your own backyard? Here’s some beautiful examples of edible landscaping:

Purple Cabbage and Daffodils

Gourmet Garnish

For a rich resource on this subject, consider the book ‘The Edible Landscape’ by Emily Tepe.

Peppers and Zinnias

Chard and Zinnias

Chard, Beets, Carrots, Garlic, Lettuces, Brassicas, and an assortment of herbs are shade-tolerant and can thrive in a not so sunny spot.

  • Contoured and Terraced Garden Beds

When it comes to setting up a garden for the first time, look beyond rectangular plots, confined to flat areas and 90 degree angles. Why not work with the natural slope of your yard, footprint of your home, and shape of your landscaping? Contoured garden beds create flow in your yard while helping control runoff and erosion on slopes.

Contoured Raised Beds

If your creativity and budget are more expansive, consider constructing terraced planters that spill from the sides of your deck or patio. The garden pictured below is constructed from Corten Steel, but you could also use timber, brick, or stone. Terraced planters have the advantage of being elevated and protected from ground dwelling varmints that might want to indulge in your bounty, and they can be tucked up next to a home for convenient harvesting.

Terraced backyard garden

HELPFUL TIP: Always mulch around the base of garden plants. A layer of straw, pine bark, grass clippings, chopped leaves, wood chips, or even plastic or paper wrap will help control weeds, lower irrigation requirements, and maintain a healthier soil environment.

  • Keyhole Garden: Closing the Loop

Have you ever owned and operated a composting bin or tumbler? The great advantage of composting, other than lowering your household’s burden on the landfill, is that the finished product is nutrient-rich, free fertilizer. However, some folks find that composting looks great on paper but in practice can be a nuisance.

A Keyhole Garden removes a couple steps from the process by coupling a raised planting bed with a compost basket, meaning the compost automatically works its way into the garden. This allows you to take your kitchen and yard scraps–egg shells, wilted greens, cores, stems, peels, grass clippings, leaves–and feed them directly to the plants in your garden. Biological ‘trash’ in and healthy harvests out.

Anatomy of a Keyhole Garden

Most examples online are built with natural stone, scrap wood, or metal, but consider matching the exterior of your home or deck to construct a keyhole garden.


There is just nothing like having access to fresh herbs and vegetables all summer long. Anyone will attest that it tastes better and carries more feeling into your cooking. I hope you’ve enjoyed these less traditional gardening ideas. Here’s to a warm season of getting creative in the yard and producing some of your own food in the process.